Trump verdict is like ‘pouring gasoline on a fire that’s already burning’

Any semblance of respect between Republicans and Democrats has completely disintegrated

Former US president Donald Trump gestures outside of Trump Tower after a jury found him guilty on all 34 counts in his criminal trial in New York. Photograph: Peter Foley/EPA

While Donald Trump’s cavalcade inched its way through the rush hour snarl to his Midtown eyrie, about an hour after the former president had been found guilty of 34 charges of falsifying business records, the Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg gave a brief press conference.

As Bragg left the room where the conference had been hastily arranged, someone shouted a question which he wisely left unanswered, but which will drift through the fiery summer campaign and into the winter when the most contentious US election in living memory will take place.

“Are you concerned about retribution if Trump is elected president?” a voice shouted after the district attorney.

If Bragg was rejoicing in the moment, he did a masterful job of disguising it.


Throughout the trial, in which Trump was found guilty on all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign, the former president had repeatedly and personally insulted and castigated Bragg, particularly in the days preceding the hearings when the substance of the charges was under heavy scrutiny.

Keith Duggan's report: Trump found guilty on all counts in hush-money trialOpens in new window ]

The performance of the prosecution and defence will be analysed in the months and years to come. But what was immediately clear, in the aftershock of the jury verdict was that the decision has further polarised the Republican and Democratic representatives and the people they represent.

New Yorkers clashed after the Trump verdict as tensions ran high. Video: Getty

It was, of course, no surprise that Trump delivered a scathing rebuke of the entire trial: he has done so at every opportunity.

But support began to flood in from key figures in the Republican party. House Speaker Mike Johnson described the verdict in historic terms but placed the judgment solely on the mechanisms of the court.

“Today is a shameful day in American history. Democrats cheered as they convicted the leader of the opposing party on ridiculous charges, predicated on the testimony of a disbarred, convicted felon,” he said in a statement.

“This was purely a political exercise, not a legal one. The weaponisation of our justice system has been a hallmark of the Biden administration, and the decision today is further evidence that Democrats will stop at nothing to silence dissent and crush their political opponents. The American people see this as a lawfare – and they know it is wrong – and dangerous.”

Keith Duggan: Trump verdict a stunning end to a quintessentially New York taleOpens in new window ]

Florida senator Marco Rubio jumped on X to denounce what he believes to be “a complete travesty that makes a mockery of our system of justice”.

The money machines cranked up: by teatime, subscribers to both Trump and Biden’s campaigns had issued donation plea texts to their followers.

The Iowa GOP, where Trump had delivered a stunning primary sweep of all 99 counties through the deep freeze that swept through the Midwest in January, issued an email declaring that “the corrupt DEMOCRAT MACHINE has struck again. The left has lost its moral standing completely, now just a show of what their party once was”.

The deluge of messages represented the solidification of the official Republican support of their presumptive candidate’s repeated insistence that the entire case against him and the trial itself was a sham, conceived and executed by Joe Biden and those around him.

The battle lines for the election were being drawn in real time and the implications could not have been clearer: the breakdown of trust and any semblance of respect between the two factions of American politics has completely disintegrated.

Former US president Donald Trump walks to speak to the press after he was convicted in his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City. Photorgraph: Seth Wenig/AFP via Getty Images

In the very early stages of the coverage of this trial, a few of the networks described it as “the trial of the century”. The term, of course, evoked memories of the summer of 1995 when American society was transfixed by the live televised trial of OJ Simpson for the murder of his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman – and his sensational acquittal.

By curious coincidence, the disgraced former football idol – once a national treasure – died from cancer during Trump’s hush money trial.

By then, it was clear that the Trump trial bore no comparison to the heightened atmosphere of the Simpson trial. To begin with, it wasn’t on television, which immediately obscured it from the sightlines of busy people moving through a hectic world. The details of the case were frequently technical and dull.

The judge, Juan Merchan, was rigorous, firm and seemed determined to keep his courtroom devoid of any unnecessary drama. The absence of cameras and the subdued nature denied Trump the oxygen of performative publicity. There were times when, it was reported, he seemed bored at his own trial.

On Thursday evening, Alvin Bragg portrayed himself as just a cog in the system of justice, almost wilfully devoid of personality as he discussed the case. “I did my job,” he repeated.

His contention was that what had occurred in the poorly-lit court building on Center Street- a world away from the opulence of Trump Tower- was just another example of the justice system at work.

“While this defendant may be unlike any other in American history we arrived at this trial and ultimately today at this verdict in the same manner as every other case that comes through the courtroom doors: by following the facts and the law and doing so without fear of favour,” he said.

Perhaps, but it was a verdict and a trial which Trump’s defence lead Todd Blanche promised to appeal.

So, what was considered the weakest of the four possible criminal trials Donald Trump had to hurdle has delivered a momentous and historic decision. But it was a strange moment.

Former US president Donald Trump has been found guilty on all 34 counts in his criminal hush money trial.

So many questions remain: about the appeal, about the likelihood of the former president seeing jail time (slim to none), about whether he can vote in the election to decide if he will be president, about the likelihood of a new era when American presidents are retrospectively prosecuted, about the willingness of public representatives to accept the rulings of a court of law.

The timing of the verdict caught everyone off guard. This was a world removed from the impact of the OJ Simpson decision, when the roars of approval and howls of dismay were broadcast across the country.

Manhattan got on with the business of a gorgeous Thursday evening in late May – the subway platforms hot and crowded, outdoor space at a premium in the bars and restaurants.

It was left to the commentariat to smithy the significance of the day. “It feeds into the narrative of this completely divided country that can’t agree on much of anything,” said Bob Woodward.

“Momentous,” said Carl Bernstein, when the pair appeared together on CNN. “But it still is incendiary in terms of where this country is right now. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire that’s already burning.”