I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Today, we have a special-edition newsletter breaking down the guilty verdict in Donald Trump's Manhattan trial.

A note.

Yesterday, we announced that today's Friday edition would be a piece on three things I recently got wrong. We were all set to publish that newsletter today when the news of the verdict in the Trump trial broke. We didn't think it would be appropriate to wait to cover this story, and decided to jump in and get this edition out today. So, next Friday, we'll run the "things I got wrong" piece. 

Today, we’re going to publish a newsletter focused on the verdict, with no reader question or under-the-radar story.

Quick hits.

  1. In a major shift of U.S. policy, President Biden has authorized Ukraine to conduct limited strikes inside Russia — only from the area of Kharkiv — with American-made weapons. (The policy)
  2. The U.S. Supreme Court voted unanimously to reinstate the National Rifle Association's free speech lawsuit against a New York regulator who tried to get companies and banks to cut ties with the group. (The ruling)
  3. The FAA authorized Amazon's delivery drones to fly longer distances without visual spotters, a key hurdle for Amazon's developing air delivery service. (The authorization)
  4. 14 pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were found guilty of conspiring to subvert the government under the new national security law passed in 2020. (The convictions)
  5. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's centrist party and war cabinet, submitted a bill to dissolve parliament and force early elections in an effort to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (The bill)

Today's topic.

The Trump verdict. On Thursday, former President Donald Trump was convicted on all 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a “hush money” payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. The jury deliberated for two days to find Trump guilty, making him the first former president in U.S. history to be convicted of a crime.

Reminder: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with orchestrating a scheme to pay Daniels in 2016 to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump roughly 10 years earlier. While falsifying business records is typically a misdemeanor in New York, Bragg argued the falsified payments were felonies in this case because they were part of a larger effort by Trump to unlawfully influence the 2016 election. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and the state’s star witness, paid Daniels $130,000 one month before the 2016 election, after which he said Trump falsified business records to disguise his reimbursement as ordinary legal expenses. Bragg charged Trump with 34 felony counts, one for each record he falsified while reimbursing Cohen. Both Cohen and Daniels testified during the trial, but Trump opted not to.

You can read our previous coverage of the trial here

Presiding Judge Juan Merchan set Trump’s sentencing date for July 11, four days before the start of the Republican National Convention. All the crimes Trump has been convicted of are Class E felonies, the lowest tier of felony charges in New York, but each count carries the possibility of up to four years in prison. If Merchan decides to impose a prison sentence on Trump, he is likely to order the terms be served simultaneously for each count rather than consecutively. Alternatively, Merchan could impose a fine on Trump or sentence him to probation. 

The verdict does not disqualify Trump from running for office, and he will retain his voting rights in his home state of Florida as long as he is not sentenced to prison. Trump is also expected to appeal the verdict, a process that could take years to resolve. He has until June 13th to file a motion to appeal. 

After the verdict was rendered, Judge Merchan thanked the jurors for their service in the trial. 

“You gave this matter the attention it deserved, and I want to thank you for that,” Merchan told them. Trump's attorney Todd Blanche moved for acquittal after the jury left the room, which Judge Merchan denied. 

Donald Trump addressed the verdict in brief comments outside the courtroom in Manhattan. "This was a rigged, disgraceful trial," Trump told reporters. "The real verdict is going to be November 5, by the people. They know what happened here, and everybody knows what happened here."

Following the conviction, District Attorney Alvin Bragg gave a statement to the press. "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 to the courtroom doors — by following the facts and the law in doing so, without fear or favor," Bragg said.

In today’s special Friday edition, we’ll give this story the standard Tangle treatment, with views from the right and left about the verdict, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is outraged by the verdict, calling it the result of a sham trial.
  • Some suggest the conviction will benefit Trump politically.
  • Others worry the trial has worsened polarization in the U.S.

The New York Post editorial board said Trump fell “victim to a prostituted court of law.” 

“The violations of basic fairness in the trial were legion: Merchan wouldn’t let the defense call an expert witness to testify that no federal campaign-finance law was violated; he routinely shut down the defense while letting the prosecution get away with gross violations, including telling  multiple outright lies in its closing statement,” the board wrote. “Jurors didn’t realize that the only testimony indicating criminal intent on Trump’s part (something utterly necessary for a guilty verdict) came from Michael Cohen, a confessed serial liar who admitted to a personal vendetta against the defendant.”

“Bragg’s team didn’t even show that Trump had actually falsified any business records. All that should get the verdict tossed on appeal, but for now President Biden’s campaign can and will call Trump a ‘convicted felon’ every minute through Election Day,” the board said. “Most of the modern Democratic Party that Biden happily leads (or, arguably, is led by) cares only about power. All Biden’s other disasters aside, that by itself is ample reason for the court of public opinion to vote him out come Election Day.”

In City Journal, Ilya Shapiro argued the verdict is “a travesty of justice.”

“From the moment that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg chose to indict Trump for nearly decade-old offenses that Bragg himself had previously declined to prosecute, the circus came to town. The jury’s findings of guilt on all 34 counts of falsifying business records are almost anticlimactic, putting the cherry on top of multiple scoops of misused legal authority,” Shapiro wrote. “Trump won’t go to jail—not for these charges—but the New York process continues to taint the other, more serious prosecutions that the former president faces, for which he almost certainly won’t be tried before the election.

“And it continues to taint the election itself, though not necessarily in Democrats’ favor. After all, Trump’s standing in opinion polls improved after Bragg’s indictment, turning what was supposed to be a competitive Republican primary into a coronation. And these convictions are likely already factored into voters’ perceptions,” Shapiro said. “It should never have come to this. And for that I blame not so much the jurors, but the DA and the judge.”

In RedState, Jeff Charles wrote “this might get ugly.”

“It was clear from the beginning that this whole case was a ploy intended to target a political opponent. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s decision to go forward with these charges had nothing to do with a pursuit of justice, but an effort to affect the upcoming election,” Charles said. “Democrats might live to regret this particular legal gambit. Trump and Biden have been polling at a statistical dead heat even with all the indictments and media meddling. This conviction could very well push Trump ahead of the current occupant of the White House. This is especially true if the other pending cases produce similar results.”

“While this fiasco is certainly going to redound negatively on the Democrats, what about American society? America is already quite divided. Politics has become a top priority for many who might not have paid as much attention previously. The past decade has seen this fissure grow even wider. This has already inflamed passions about Trump and will probably lead to more polarization over the coming months,” Charles wrote. “If he loses after a campaign season full of political prosecutions, it will serve to exacerbate attitudes on both sides.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left mostly welcomes the verdict, arguing that the justice system worked as designed.
  • Some praise Judge Merchan and the jury for fulfilling their duties in a historic trial.
  • Others say the case against Trump was weak despite the guilty verdict.

The New York Times editorial board said the verdict offers another reason why “Trump is unfit for office.”

“Americans may wonder about the significance of this moment. The Constitution does not prohibit those with a criminal conviction from being elected or serving as commander in chief, even if they are behind bars. The nation’s founders left that decision in the hands of voters,” the board wrote. “Yet the greatest good to come out of this sordid case is the proof that the rule of law binds everyone, even former presidents. Under extraordinary circumstances, the trial was conducted much like any other criminal trial in the city.”

“The verdict itself establishes that Mr. Trump committed crimes in hiding pertinent information about himself from the American people for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential election. It revealed even more evidence of what Mr. Trump is willing to do, including breaking the law and pushing others to break the law, for political gain,” the board said. “In the end, the jury heard the evidence, deliberated for more than nine hours and came to a decision, which is how the system is designed to work.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Harry Litman wrote “does it matter that Donald Trump just became a convicted criminal? Of course it does.”

The jury and the judge “did their work conscientiously and even doggedly under a hailstorm of insults and threats from the defendant and his supporters. We have for years hoped for such a measure of accountability for the unrepentant former president. It finally arrived, and the center held,” Litman said. “Unlike the insults, the accolades showered on the jurors and Judge Juan M. Merchan are more than deserved. Having attended most of the trial, I think their seriousness of purpose matched the gravity of their duties.”

“Trump is an altered figure in the eyes of that law. No longer presumed innocent, he is proven guilty, a convict, a serial offender. And like any other convict, he will have to sit down for an interview with the probation office, which will prepare a report and recommendation for the judge based on its assessment of Trump’s offenses and his acceptance of responsibility, among other factors. That doesn’t augur well for a man who has spent a lifetime failing to own up to misconduct,” Litman wrote. “Today, though, the law prevailed in a fashion that was at the same time basic and majestic.”

In MSNBC, Jessica Levinson suggested “Alvin Bragg got lucky.”

“Let’s be honest with each other. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case was convoluted, and the jury convicting Trump shows that he got lucky in this case,” Levinson said. “The case morphed into an amalgamation of all of the cases pending against Trump. It was at once, according to prosecutors, a documents case and an election interference case. But one case should never have been seen as a referendum on whether the criminal justice system can hold Trump to account.”

“Even though the jury did convict him, there are still real legal issues that Trump will bring up on appeal. There may, for instance, be some question as to whether prosecutors can use the violation of a federal law to show actions by ‘unlawful means’ under the New York state law. We could also ask the flip side of this question: Should the alleged violation of a state election law be used against a presidential candidate,” Levinson wrote. “The hush money trial may be our only answer to the question of whether the criminal justice system can withstand the behavior of someone like Trump. That’s too bad.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

I have written a lot about the merits of this case, and now that the jury has issued their verdict I haven’t changed my mind. To reiterate some main points:

  • Alvin Bragg introduced a new legal theory against a former president (for underlying actions on which the statute of limitations had expired), he stacked the charges, and he pursued the case despite other prosecutors seeing the same evidence and declining to do so (Bragg himself faced a staff revolt for initially refusing to bring the case).
  • Step back and think about it: Trump entered a consensual agreement with a woman to pay her to keep quiet about an alleged affair. This is totally legal (and not uncommon). The only thing illegal was how he falsified business records to cover up the payment (typically a misdemeanor), which Bragg has turned into a felony offense worthy of jail time by tying it to intent to violate a state election law.
  • These charges never would have been (and never have been) brought against anyone else. 
  • Fraudulent business records are a pretty run-of-the-mill misdemeanor crime, something Bragg has called the “bread and butter” of his office. Yet, in order to prove a felony crime, Bragg had to show those records were falsified with the intent to commit or conceal a state election interference crime, which strikes me as… a stretch. Remember, Bragg had to prove that the “intent to defraud included an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.” The “other” crime Bragg just proved Trump broke or intended to break is New York Election Law Section 17-152: “Conspiracy to promote or prevent election. Any two or more persons who conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.” 
  • Trump was very obviously guilty of the basic actions Bragg’s case rested on. The paper trail for the payments to cover up the story was hilariously obvious, Trump himself admitted to it, and Stormy Daniels' account of the events also made it seem likelier than not that the affair actually happened. In short: I think Trump had the affair, paid Daniels to stay quiet, and falsified business records to cover it up. It’s very hard to think otherwise.
  • Nobody — not Trump, not Cohen, not Daniels, not Bragg, not Judge Merchan — left this case looking good.

You can read me expounding on all of those ideas in past Tangle editions here, here, and here.

Now, that doesn't mean my assessment is right. As anti-Trump conservative writer Tim Miller put it: "Seems like Alvin Bragg understood the quality of his case better than the Twitter experts and Trump apologists did." Just last week, in an edition about Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) pardoning Daniel Perry, I emphasized that "a jury of Perry's peers had all the relevant facts to make a determination in this case, and they came to the conclusion he was guilty."

Is it unfair of me to have a different standard here? Perhaps — but my quandary here isn’t the jury so much as the purported federal crime. I suppose it’s possible I'm just another "Twitter expert" or "Trump apologist." But I would not denigrate to an amateur level the many actual legal experts who loathe Trump and also thought this case was, in so many words, very questionable.

For some conservatives — like Tucker Carlson — this case is apparently a watershed revelation that our justice system is broken and can produce unjust outcomes. For people like me, it's just a reminder. Yes, I am surprised Trump got convicted. In a podcast that will go up on Sunday, which we recorded moments before this verdict came down, you'll hear me very wrongly predict a hung jury or acquittal. I also think this ruling sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for the country. There is zero doubt in my mind that Republicans will try to find a way to prosecute Biden for crimes that will seem ridiculous to half the country once he is out of office.

I’ve also been convinced by other strong criticisms that have come out of this case of Bragg and the left more broadly. For one, I think this trial quickly turned into a Democratic brand of election denial. The central idea prosecutors argued to justify election interference charges was that Trump’s victory in 2016 was aided by keeping this story secret. If you believe that, then you should also call Facebook suppressing the Hunter Biden story election interference in order to be logically consistent (which is to say, you shouldn’t believe it).

Second, since I’m saying that the prosecution’s argument was flawed, I think it’s important to concede that Trump’s legal team didn’t do enough to show that to the jury. They had a strong defense strategy on the table they did not pursue; basically, they blew it. There are different avenues for Trump’s team to appeal, and if they’re granted another shot to make their case they very well may win. Anyone taking a victory lap should temper their reaction, because this case is far from over.

That said, I do not join the critics who go so far as to say this outcome makes us a Third World country, or that it spells the end of democracy, or that the left is willing to assassinate Trump to keep him from winning in 2024 (as Carlson also suggested). I do think it is a reminder of what you get when district attorneys are ambitious, partisan elected officials, and when a jury pool in a political case is drawn from a population of overwhelmingly Democratic voters. For whatever it's worth, I actually thought Judge Juan Merchan — despite his political ties to Democrats — played his hand better than he’s getting credit for. Putting debates over a handful of controversial rulings aside, he was more fair than a lot of people on the right are claiming. Ultimately, this decision was the jury’s, not his.

Plenty of people will disagree with me on many of these points, and that's fine. I happen to think Trump’s other indictments — like for mishandling classified documents and criminal acts while attempting to overturn the 2020 election results — are much stronger. But those cases don’t seem to be headed to trial before the election. I understand that reality has led many on the left to channel their desire for justice (and to have Trump labeled a felon) into this New York case, but nothing about this outcome feels just to me.

Putting all this aside, the politics here are still worth discussing. A lot of people seem convinced this conviction is going to help Trump. I am not one of those people. Yes, he will have a fundraising bonanza. Some very wealthy people are already pledging to support him now, the WinRed fundraising website crashed last night, and the dollars from grassroots donors are going to continue to pour in (as they have since Trump’s first indictment).

But guess what else? By the end of last night, I had four friends text me and ask if Trump can still run for president (he can). We often forget that a lot of Americans have about 15 minutes a day to spend on this stuff, and it’s going to matter a great deal to most of those people that one of the major candidates asking for their vote is tagged as a convicted felon. It's well known by now, but one poll even found a quarter of Trump voters saying Trump should not be the Republican nominee if he is found guilty in one of his criminal cases.

More recently, a Quinnipiac survey released last week found that about 23% of independents said a guilty verdict will make them less likely to vote for Trump, while 11% said more likely. If those numbers are correct, it's a net -12% swing with a crucial group of voters for a former president who lost in 2020 and whose party has been losing close, competitive elections consistently since 2016. Remember: Trump lost in 2020 — before January 6, before the classified documents case, before the E. Jean Carroll verdict, before Roe v. Wade fell, before his business fraud case, before the Jan. 6 cases in D.C. and Georgia, and before being convicted in this case. I have a hard time believing that he is in a stronger position now than he was four years ago, polls be damned.

Obviously, that doesn't mean Trump won't win. He very well might. Biden is a weak candidate. November 5 is still six months away, this story is going to feel like it was a decade ago by the time we get to the election, and the ripple effects from the verdict could play out in a bunch of nuanced ways by then. For instance, Biden is currently leading Trump among high-propensity voters (those most likely to turn out), while Trump leads Biden among all voters. Assuming this verdict energizes voters on the sideline more than those already committed to vote, which it might, Trump could benefit from more people participating in the election in 2024.

Yet I always come back to the main thing: Just like in 2020 and 2016, the winner of this race is going to need moderates and independents to win close races in the critical swing states. I struggle to see how this outcome is going to help Trump with those voters, especially after he spends the next several months promising revenge and counter-prosecutions (which he will).

Trump is a very good politician with incredible instincts. He's a tremendous fundraiser and a professional at emphasizing his own victimhood, simplifying his talking points, and attacking his enemies. Even with all that, though, I'm doubtful he can turn this conviction into a net positive — and I’m still skeptical that his position heading into 2024 was ever all that strong in the first place.

  • Take the survey: What do you think of Trump’s guilty verdict? Let us know!
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  • 32%. The percentage of registered Republican voters who said in December 2023 that Donald Trump should not be the Republican nominee for president if he is convicted of a crime, even if he wins the most votes in the primary, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll. 
  • 67%. The percentage of U.S. voters who said it makes no difference to their vote if Trump is found guilty in his “hush money” trial, according to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released on the day of the verdict.
  • 17%. The percentage of U.S. voters who said they would be less likely to vote for Trump if he is convicted. 
  • 15%. The percentage of U.S. voters who said they would be more likely to vote for Trump if he is convicted. 
  • 16%. The percentage of self-identified Trump supporters who said they’d reconsider their support for him if he were to be convicted in the New York case, according to a May 2024 ABC News/Ipsos poll. 
  • $300,000. The amount raised by the National Republican Congressional Committee in the hours after the verdict was announced, surpassing the $175,000 it raised on the day Mike Johnson was elected speaker of the House.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered the Supreme Court’s Clean Water Act decision.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday’s newsletter was the difference in house sizes between the U.S. and Europe.
  • Nothing to do with politics: The AI chatbot made to be obsessed with the Golden Gate Bridge is the funniest thing the internet has produced this year (read the whole thread).
  • Yesterday’s survey: 894 readers answered our survey on Louisiana’s abortion pill law with 79% strongly opposed. “There are better ways to help people see that killing babies is not a viable answer to personal freedom!” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

Dr. Richard Scolyer, a professor at the University of Sydney, remains cancer-free one year after undergoing a new treatment for glioblastoma (GBM), one of the most aggressive and deadly forms of brain cancer. He has a skilled physician to thank for applying a new immunotherapy method to treat his tumor — himself. Dr. Scolyer, who is a director at the Melanoma Institute Australia, teamed up with co-director Georgina Long to develop the treatment plan together, for which the pair was jointly named the NSW Australian of the Year. The New York Post has the story.

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