Trump verdict a stunning end to a quintessentially New York legal tale

November’s presidential election - and America itself - has entered uncharted territory

The 2024 US presidential election – and America itself – entered uncharted territory on Thursday afternoon when a 12-person jury found Donald Trump, former president polling favourite to return to the White House, guilty of 34 felony charges after an electrifying close to the so-called “hush money” trial in Manhattan.

The decision came late in the afternoon, with Justice Juan Merchan receiving a note at 4.20pm, by which time everyone was preparing to go home. By 5pm, the jury was back in the courtroom and in front of a still, stony-faced Trump, the foreman went through all 34 counts and confirmed that it was a unanimous decision.

Just like that, it was all over. The Trump defence team had hardly left the courthouse when a statement was released from president Biden’s campaign team.

“Today we saw that no one is above the law. Donald Trump has always mistakenly believed he would never face consequences for breaking the law for his own personal gain. But today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval office: at the ballot box. Convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.”


And it seems true that the verdict will form a new narrative in an election already crowded with wild storylines. It was a stunning end to a quintessentially New York legal story.

The profile of the jury could easily fit a random selection of travellers who share the subway carriages running through the warren of tunnels beneath the city all day long. Juror number one, the foreman and originally from Ireland works in sales. A civil litigator, a corporate lawyer, a security engineer, an English teacher, a software engineer, a retired wealth manager, a physical therapist, a speech therapist, an ecommerce employee and a retired manager made up the rest of a panel.

The jury was noted for its diligent attentiveness through weeks of a trial that combined tabloid gossip, memories of the Trump administration and dense technical detail about invoices and payments.

Since Tuesday, they had pored over the evidence of a strange case, which combined dense administrative and accountancy details with the decades of salacious gossip stories from a decade ago.

An unusual parade of witnesses was called before the court: David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer who spoke about the “catch and kill” practice of buying stories potentially damaging to celebrities with the express intention of never publishing them.

Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director in the Trump administration who presented a sympathetic figure to her former boss but whose testimony may nonetheless have damaged his defence.

Stormy Daniels, the former adult entertainer whose alleged encounter with Trump, after a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006 would lead to the contentious hush-money payments a full decade later. And, of course, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer who was described during the summation by defence attorney Michael Cohen as the Gloat: the greatest liar of all time.

As the jury continued its deliberations this week, Donald Trump prepared himself for days and even weeks of hanging around the courtroom, rather than getting on with the business of campaigning to become president. Under a gag order throughout the trial, he gave a statement outside the courtroom on Wednesday in which he appeared to be bracing his supporters to expect the worst.

“What I would say is if you are listening to the charges from the judge is very conflicted and corrupt. Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. These charges are rigged. The whole thing is rigged. The whole country’s a mess between the borders and fake elections and you have a trial like this where the judge is so conflicted he can’t breathe. He’s got to do his job and it’s not for me, that I can tell you. It’s a disgrace and I’ll tell you: Mother Teresa could not beat these charges.

“But we will see. We’ll see how we do. It’s a very disgraceful situation. Every single legal scholar and expert said: this is no case. It shouldn’t have been brought and it certainly couldn’t have been brought seven years ago, not in the middle of a presidential election. It was all done by Joe Biden.

“This judge contributed to Joe Biden and far worse than that – but I am not allowed to talk about it because I have a gag order – far worse than that, it will be talked about in the history books. What’s happening here is weaponisation at a level that nobody has seen before – ever. And it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

But it did happen. It was reported that none of the jurors made eye contact with the former president as the historic verdicts were read out. Already, it is moving from a living, breathing legal trial into its inevitable place as one of the most closely scrutinised legal stories in American history. What happens next is anyone’s guess.