9 min read

All your Trump conviction questions, answered

Everything you’ve been wondering about Donald Trump’s historic felony conviction.
All your Trump conviction questions, answered
(CNN screengrab)

Good morning! It’s Friday, May 31, 2024. Election Day is 158 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

A jury of his peers found Donald Trump guilty of falsifying business records on Thursday, convicting him on all 34 felony charges that had been leveled against him in New York. He is the now first U.S. president in history to be convicted of a crime.

The verdict was delivered after more than nine hours of jury deliberation, following a historic weeks-long trial in which prosecutors alleged that Trump orchestrated a scheme to illegally sway the 2016 election by paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels.

“This was a disgrace,” Trump fumed to reporters after the conviction. “This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt. It’s a rigged trial, a disgrace.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, meanwhile, touted the verdict as proof of the strength of the case he brought against the former president. “The only voice that matters is the voice of the jury,” he said. “And the jury has spoken.”

The first page of the verdict sheet showing Trump’s conviction.

Here are the answers to all the key questions you might be wondering about this morning. Let’s run through all the legal questions first — and then dig into the political impact.

When will Trump be sentenced? Judge Juan Merchan, who oversaw the case, set a sentencing date of July 11. That is four days before the opening of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Trump is poised to receive the GOP presidential nomination.

Could he go to prison? He could, but it’s unlikely. In New York, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony — the lowest felony level — which means it carries a maximum sentence of a $5,000 fine or four years in prison per count. Although some defendants are jailed for the crime, most are not; considering Trump is a 77-year-old first-time offender, many legal experts consider the odds of a prison sentence to be low. It will ultimately be up to Merchan to set the sentence in July.

How will the appeals process work? New York’s court system is somewhat confusing. The lowest court in the state is (paradoxically) the New York Supreme Court, which is where Trump was found guilty yesterday. The next highest court is the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, which is where he can (and likely will) now appeal the conviction. If he is still unhappy with the result, Trump can then go to the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state; if Trump can identify a federal issue at stake, he could then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is highly unlikely that this lengthy appeals process will be completed before the election.

Can he still run for president? Yes. Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution lists just three qualifications to be president: being a natural-born American citizen, being at least 35 years of age, and having lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years. Nowhere does it say that a convicted felon does not qualify. In the past, other convicts have sought the White House, although never as a major party nominee. Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs, for example, received 3.4% of the popular vote in 1920, despite running from his prison cell.

Will Trump be able to vote for himself in November? As long as he isn’t sent to prison. In Florida, where Trump is registered to vote, the law holds that a resident found guilty of a felony out-of-state must abide by the disenfranchisement rules of the state where they were convicted. New York’s policy is that convicted felons only lose the right to vote if they are in prison; otherwise, they are free to participate in elections.

Could he pardon himself if elected? No. Putting aside the thorny legal question of whether presidents can offer themselves clemency, the fact that Trump was convicted of a state crime automatically moots the question of a self-pardon in this case. Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution authorizes the president to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States” — meaning that offenses against a specific state are out of their jurisdiction. The governor of New York, on the other hand, would be empowered pardon Trump. Paging Kathy Hochul...

Will we ever hear directly from the jurors who convicted Trump? Maybe. According to the New York jury handbook, jurors in the state are “free to talk to media reporters” after a trial is over if they choose to do so.

And now, let’s turn to the million-dollar question:

How will this impact the 2024 election? Sorry to give a boring answer, but no one can know for sure.

Here’s what we do know: Polls leading up to the verdict consistently suggested that while most voters would be unmoved by a Trump conviction, it could make a difference for some segment of Trump supporters. A recent ABC/Ipsos poll, for example, found that 80% of Trump voters would continue supporting him if he were convicted; 16% would reconsider their support, and 4% would no longer support him. A recent CNN/SSRS poll found similarly.

Even more dramatically, a recent Marquette Law School poll found Trump leading Biden by three percentage points normally — with the caveat that Biden would lead Trump by four percentage points if Trump was found guilty.

Still, telling a pollster that you will change your vote and actually changing your vote are two very different things. Personally, I am very skeptical that the conviction will lead to anything like the seven-point swing that Marquette recorded. There is already evidence that some Trump-leaning voters tell pollsters they don’t plan to vote for Trump out of social-desirability bias; you have to assume that effect would be magnified if voters are bashful about telling someone on the phone they plan to vote for a convicted felon.

On top of that, of course, we also have a long history of Trump getting into trouble — the “Access Hollywood” tape, two impeachments, January 6th, being found civilly liable for sexual assault — and his support barely moving an inch.

All that said, I think it would be a mistake to automatically assume that the conviction will have no impact on the election. For one thing, even if it does only cause 4% of Trump voters to change their minds — well, that would make a big difference in an election that is likely to be decided by the narrowest of margins.

I also think it’s valuable to remember why Trump has a (slight) edge in most 2024 polls. According to several surveys, it’s because of less engaged voters, the kind who mostly tune out of politics and are unhappy with both of their choices for president — below, for example, is an ABC/Ipsos poll where Trump leads by two points among all adults, but trails by four points among likely voters.

A good chunk of these disengaged voters are young voters, who — according to a recent Change Research poll — are unaware of many of Trump’s more controversial comments from the 2016 election, when they may not have been paying much attention to politics.

We can’t be sure how the news from New York will play in the broader electorate — but if there was anything that was likely to break through to these largely tuned-out, begrudgingly-leaning-to-Trump voters, you’d think it would be a criminal conviction. If the news pushes even a fraction of the so-called “double haters” (the voters who don’t like Trump or Biden, and have so far been leaning towards Trump) to either switch to Biden or to stay home in November, then it could have a meaningful impact on the end result.

Of course, there’s also a possibility that the conviction helps Trump. We saw this dynamic repeatedly in the Republican primary, as Trump’s support rose with each indictment. Many Republican politicians — who have been almost universally rallying to Trump’s defense, parroting his rhetoric of a legal system “weaponized” against him — have expressed confidence that the same will happen now.

However, a primary electorate is very different than a general election electorate. Yes, I am sure there are passionate Trump voters who will become even more passionate now, fired up by his claims that the justice system is rigged against him (and, by extension, them). In a few hours, we are sure to get the first reports from the Trump campaign that his fundraising exploded after the conviction; WinRed, the Republican donation platform, crashed last night amid a surge in usage.

But do not mistake the increased excitement of people who were already voting for Trump for evidence that undecided voters will now move to his column because of the conviction. Every poll we’ve seen so far has suggested a conviction will lead to some drop in Trump’s support — maybe (probably) the drop will not be as big as polls suggest, but there has yet to be survey evidence that the conviction will be a net-gain for the ex-president.

Mostly, we’ll have to wait and see. And I mean wait. Don’t take the first poll after the conviction, or even the first few polls, as hard-and-fast evidence of a new trend. Wait a few weeks and see where the numbers land before judging if the conviction has shaken up the race. As historic as this conviction is on its own terms, it’s not clear that it will be the top issue for many voters come November; with perceptions of the economy still low, it’s likely that most voters — even those who believe the charges against Trump are serious — will more heavily weigh other factors before making their decision. It is true that it would only take a small number of voters moved by the conviction for it to impact the race, but it’s also true that by Election Day, they could easily be balanced out by voters turned off by Biden because of his age or the economy. Which means we’re likely still looking at a basically tied race until the end.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden don’t agree on much — but there was at least one message on which they shared a striking unanimity last night: the true test of Trump’s staying power ultimately won’t be decided by a jury in Manhattan. It will be left to the court of public opinion this November.

“The real verdict is going to be November 5th by the people,” Trump said outside of the courthouse yesterday.

“There’s only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office,” Biden tweeted a little later. “At the ballot box.”

More news to know.

The day ahead.

President Biden will return to the White House this morning from his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware vacation home. He will deliver remarks on the Middle East and hold an event with the Kansas City Chiefs to celebrate their Super Bowl victory.

Vice President Harris will deliver remarks at a campaign event in San Diego, California.

The House and Senate are out until next week.

Donald Trump will deliver remarks at Trump Tower at 11 a.m. ET.

Thanks for reading.

I get up each morning to write Wake Up To Politics because I’m committed to offering an independent and reliable news source that helps you navigate our political system and understand what’s going on in government.

The newsletter is completely free and ad-free — but if you appreciate the work that goes into it, here’s how you can help:

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.‌‌‌‌

Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.‌‌‌‌

— Gabe