Donald Trump up close and personal: A president convicted by a jury of his peers

A Manhattan jury does what Democrats and Republicans couldn’t do

By Brian Karem


Published May 31, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Empty Jury Seats (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Empty Jury Seats (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

In the end, it was a jury of ordinary people who brought him down.

Convicted felon. Donald Trump, the twice impeached, former president sat through the reading of the verdict in his New York felony case, floored. According to witnesses in the courtroom, he was stunned – almost unable to believe what had just occurred. Guilty on all 34 felony counts.

Let’s be blunt: Republicans love to win. That alone could sway many of those who secretly like Trump but realize that he could lose.

This was the only trial scheduled before the November election and Donald Trump went 0 for 34. A massive downfall. But, look at it this way, Donald Trump always wanted to make history. Now he has.

Trump is the first former president to be tried and convicted of a felony. He has set a record that hopefully will stand for eternity. Outside the courtroom, he lashed out with his usual conspiratorial venom, claiming the Biden administration was after him, insisting that he was an innocent man and complaining that our “whole country is being rigged right now.”

But somebody finally held Trump accountable. His victimhood sounded hollow.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took a case that initially had been dropped. He used a paper trail along with Trump’s own people and put together a narrative that the jurors believed: Donald Trump is guilty.

Joe Biden’s re-election campaign quickly responded: “In New York today, we saw that no one is above the law.” And reiterated the obvious: Trump will likely still be on the ballot and must be defeated in November. “The threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater. He is running an increasingly unhinged campaign of revenge and retribution, pledging to be a dictator ‘on day one’ and calling for our Constitution to be ‘terminated’ so he can regain and keep power.”

What few understand, but anyone who covered the Trump White House realizes, is that the jury found Trump guilty for the very same reasons those who spent a lot of time with him at the White House found him to be reprehensible; close quarters with Trump strips away the veneer of civility and invincibility that he is able to maintain for the casual observer. To see Trump up close is to understand how truly wretched and repulsive he is. 

That came through as the jury’s verdict was read publicly. Trump couldn’t run and couldn’t hide. He took it right between the eyes – the jury saw through him. He is spent.

“Donald Trump is a convicted felon,” Eric Swalwell, a Democratic congressman from California, wrote on social media. “This verdict is not a win for any single person. It’s a win for an idea. The idea that we all follow the same rules. The rule of law won today.”

One of those most affected by the verdict is Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer. He was convicted of lying for Donald Trump and spent time in prison for doing it. When he tried to write his first book, he found himself tossed back into prison by the Trump Justice Department. “Today is an important day for accountability and the rule of law,” he told me – restoring his faith in a justice system that Trump used to try and gag Cohen.

As it turned out, the jury believed Cohen more than Trump though Trump’s defense attorney was keen on painting Cohen as a horrible liar. Turns out, Donald is worse.

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Now the question remains: Will Trump do any prison time for his offense? He has constantly insulted Judge Juan Merchan, who threatened to throw Trump in jail for contempt during the trial for violating a gag order.

While Trump’s age, 77, would lead one to believe it is unlikely he will go to prison for a class E felony that is punishable by a fine, probation or up to four years in prison per count, there are some who believe he will and should spend time in a cell.

Michael Cohen once fantasized about Trump spending time in the same cell he occupied, telling me that would be justice. But that was a few years ago, and now, Cohen is silent on that possibility.

Trump’s remaining minions in the MAGA party have not been silenced, however. They continue to spout the same venom as the felon they follow. And while they are solidly behind Trump today, he is scheduled to be sentenced just three days before the Republican National Convention kicks off in Milwaukee, and at least one former right-wing member of Congress is calling on the party to reconsider his expected nomination.

Some, like former Republican presidential candidate Joe Walsh, think Trump’s conviction will actually help him politically come November. “The Biden team better brace themselves,” he told me. “His cult thinks it was a political prosecution, and they’ll all help him out.” True to that sentiment, Trump was already selling black “MAGA” hats within an hour of the verdict being announced.

Whether or not Trump’s conviction will ultimately help him, is not the point, according to former Obama ethics Czar Norm Eisen. He has been in the courtroom every day of the trial. “For today, the enormity of Trump being finally held accountable by a jury of his peers after so many allegations resonates across the nation and around the world,” he explained.

That cannot be understated. Every first reference to Donald Trump in the future will include “convicted felon.” Although, notably, a high-ranking Republican I spoke to late Thursday evening said “I have no problem with a convicted felon representing the Republican Party.”

Trump may never serve a day in prison. He may continue to be the Republican presidential nominee, though both of those suppositions are highly debatable.

For months I’ve maintained that Trump will not be on the ballot in November. I believe that the Republicans now have the leverage they need to take back their party from the MAGA extremists - if they have the energy to do so. If the Republican Party wishes to survive, Trump will not be on the ballot in the fall. Let’s be blunt: Republicans love to win. That alone could sway many of those who secretly like Trump but realize that he could lose. 

If the rule of law is applied equally, he may also well be in prison.

The decision by a jury of Trump’s peers in Manhattan showed that no one is above the law and Donald Trump’s days of political relevance can be counted as easily as the number of convictions he received in Manhattan.

Donald may not even need to use all his fingers and toes to count them.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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