Justice: So what? What Trump's conviction means for the US election

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty: For the first time, a former American president has been convicted of a crime. The guilty verdict against Donald Trump presents the USA with unprecedented problems in an election year.

The historic guilty verdict against Donald Trump has increased tensions in an already deeply divided America just months before the presidential election. A jury found the 77-year-old guilty on Thursday (local time) in New York on all 34 counts of concealing hush money to a porn star. It is the first time in the history of the United States that a former US president has been held criminally accountable.

The Republican now faces a fine or a prison sentence of several years, which could also be suspended. But neither the unprecedented verdict nor possible imprisonment will stop Trump from running for president. The convicted man spoke of a “disgrace” and announced an appeal. Incumbent Joe Biden warned against disrespecting the judiciary and called Trump's behavior “dangerous.”

Sentence, appeal, candidate selection – what happens next

Judge Juan Merchan set July 11 as the date for the sentencing announcement – just days before Republicans plan to elect Trump as their official candidate for the presidential election at a party convention in Milwaukee.

In the worst case scenario, Trump faces a prison sentence of up to four years. However, in the case of Trump, who has no previous convictions, it is more likely that the sentence will be suspended or that he will have to pay a fine.

But even in the unlikely event that Trump is sentenced to prison before the election, he could still become president.

Trump's defense team has already announced that it will exhaust all legal means and appeal against the verdict. But even if the 45th President of the United States is sentenced to prison, it is unlikely that he will be arrested on the day the sentence is announced. It is assumed that Trump will be allowed to remain free during the legal proceedings against his sentence.

Last but not least, a prison sentence would pose unprecedented problems for the former president's security apparatus: The Secret Service is required by law to protect Trump around the clock. This also applies behind bars.

Hush money and porn star – Trump with a stony face

Prosecutors accused Trump of trying to improve his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election by paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money and then illegally accounting for the money flow. Although the payment itself – which neither party disputed – was not illegal, the now 77-year-old is said to have manipulated documents when reimbursing his then lawyer Michael Cohen in order to conceal the true reason for the transaction. As a result, Trump is now guilty of illegal campaign financing.

Trump appeared more relaxed in court on Thursday than he had ever been before during the trial. At around 4:30 p.m. New York time, he and everyone else involved in the trial were already assuming that the jury deliberations would drag on into Friday.

But then Judge Merchan came into the courtroom and announced that the jury had reached a verdict. The mood in courtroom 1530 suddenly changed. Trump, who had just been chatting animatedly with his lawyer Todd Blanche and even grinning, became quiet and stared straight ahead with a stony expression. And so he accepted the verdict half an hour later: The foreman of the jury stood up and had all the charges read out to him one after the other. His answer 34 times in a row: “Guilty.”

Trump's sentence now depends on the judge's discretion. Juan Merchan is known as a lawyer who takes a clear line, takes no offense and takes action against white-collar crime. Born in Bogota, Colombia, he moved to the USA as a child and grew up – like Donald Trump – in the New York borough of Queens. Despite the hard hand he is said to have, it became clear during the trial that he knows about Trump's special position in US society and acts accordingly. During the trial, he largely avoided publicly reprimanding the presidential candidate, but kept Trump in check with a strict ban on making statements about those involved in the trial – also with the help of the threat that he would otherwise have to have him arrested.

Donations and the victim narrative – how Trump uses the verdict

Shortly after the verdict, Trump appeared angry. The actual verdict would be handed down on the day of the presidential election, he said – that is, on November 5th. He was a “very innocent man.” Trump then drove into his Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in Manhattan in a black motorcade. At the entrance to the skyscraper, he demonstratively raised his fist in the air and waved to onlookers. Prominent Republicans and ardent Trump supporters reacted angrily to the guilty verdict.

Trump, who portrays himself as a victim of a justice system controlled by the Democrats, knows how to exploit the guilty verdict for his own benefit. After the verdict, his campaign team asked supporters for donations. “I am a political prisoner,” said an email from the Trump team. “I have just been convicted in a rigged witch-hunt trial: I have done nothing wrong.”

Trump announced at a press conference in New York in a long speech in which he attacked Judge Merchan that his campaign team had raised $39 million in just a few hours. The campaign team of Trump's political opponent, incumbent Biden, also called on his supporters to pull out their credit cards.

Biden even made unusually clear comments in the White House about the guilty verdict and criticized Trump's behavior. “It's reckless, it's dangerous, it's irresponsible for someone to claim that the trial was rigged just because they don't like the verdict,” he said. Trump was given every opportunity to defend himself.

The verdict will undoubtedly have an impact on the bitter election campaign in the United States – but the question is: how much and to whose advantage? A survey conducted by the Marist Poll Institute before the guilty verdict showed that a conviction would make no difference to a majority of voters in the USA. According to the survey, 74 percent of voters who are neither Democrats nor Republicans said that a guilty verdict would make no difference to them. This group of voters is likely to be particularly important in the election, which is likely to end in a neck-and-neck race between Democrat Biden and Trump.

The conviction is likely to make Trump's supporters stand even more firmly behind the Republican. Many liberals, on the other hand, want to see Trump behind bars. This is likely to further deepen the political divide in the USA.

More charges and a big spectacle – what Trump still has to do

The trial in New York took place in downtown Manhattan amid unprecedented media interest and the strictest security measures. US media covered the event like a major sporting event and quoted every minute from the courtroom, where no TV recordings were allowed. They also commented on every movement of Trump, who was always present at the sessions and only changed the color of his tie from day to day. Trump regularly put on a grim face for the short photo opportunity at the beginning of the session. He seemed to be following some witness interviews with interest, while on other days US media were sure that he kept his eyes closed for a long time because he had dozed off.

The indictment in New York is not Trump's only legal problem. The Republican is accused of attempted election manipulation in the US capital Washington and in the state of Georgia. Trump is also accused in Florida – there the charge is for taking secret government documents. But little is happening in all three cases at the moment, Trump and his lawyers are delaying the trials with various motions. It is considered likely that the New York conviction will be the only one before the election in November.