NATIONAL NEWS

FACT FOCUS: Trump responds to guilty verdict with attacks and false claims

May 31, 2024, 3:42 PM

Former President Donald Trump on Friday addressed his conviction on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in what prosecutors have called a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election by paying hush money to silence the accounts of women who claimed to have extramarital sex with him. While making his comments he repeated numerous false or unsupported claims that he has made not only during the trial but while campaigning for a second term as president. His comments, made from Trump Tower, ranged from blaming the Biden administration for orchestrating the hush money case to other false claims about the trial and other issues facing the country.

Here’s a look at some of those claims.

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CLAIM: “This is all done by Biden and his people.”

THE FACTS: Throughout the trial Trump has said, without evidence, that the indictments were politically orchestrated by Democratic President Joe Biden and his administration in an effort to keep him out of the White House. But Biden and his administration have no control over this prosecution.

The case was brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a state-level prosecutor. His office does not work for the Justice Department or any White House office. On Friday, Biden called Trump’s response to the jury’s guilty verdict “irresponsible.”

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CLAIM: “We weren’t allowed to use our election expert under any circumstances.”

THE FACTS: Trump was referring to campaign finance expert Bradley A. Smith, a law professor and former Republican member of the Federal Election Commission. Judge Juan M. Merchan did not bar Smith from testifying. Trump’s legal team chose not to call on him after the judge declined to broaden the scope of questioning the defense could pursue.

The ruling echoed his pretrial ruling on the matter, which limited what Smith could be asked about. Merchan said that, if called, Smith could give general background about the FEC — for example, its purpose and the laws it enforces — and provide definitions for terms such as “campaign contribution.”

He rejected the Trump team’s renewed efforts to have Smith define three terms in federal election law on the basis that doing so would breach rules preventing expert witnesses from interpreting the law. Nor could Smith opine on whether the former president’s alleged actions violate those laws.

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CLAIM: “They missed the statute of limitations by a lot because this was very old. They could have brought this seven years ago instead of bringing it right in the middle of the election.”

THE FACTS: Judge Merchan in February denied a request from Trump’s legal team to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the statute of limitations had passed, according to court documents.

In his decision, Merchan cited pandemic-era executive orders issued in March 2020 and April 2021 by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that extended the limit on filing criminal charges.

New York’s statute of limitations for most felonies is five years. The earliest charge in Trump’s felony indictment was described as occurring on Feb. 14, 2017, while the indictment was filed on March 30, 2023.

But Cuomo’s executive orders meant that the deadline for filing the charges in the indictment was extended by one year and 47 days, meaning that it was brought just under the wire.

In New York, the clock can also stop on the statute of limitations when a defendant is continuously outside the state. Trump visited New York rarely over the four years of his presidency and now lives mostly in Florida and New Jersey. Merchan did not address this argument in his decision.

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CLAIM: “Record levels of terrorists, record levels, the highest level we’ve ever seen of terrorists are pouring into our country.”

THE FACTS: The number of foreigners on the terrorist watch list has increased, but federal immigration authorities say they “are very uncommon” and a small fraction of the total number of migrants who cross the border. From October 2022 to September 2023, the U.S. Border Patrol reported seeing 169 people from the list, compared with 98 the previous year. Since October 2023, the Border Patrol has reported 80 encounters.

The former president also claimed, as he has done in recent speeches, that Chinese migrants are arriving in the U.S. to build an army, saying 29,000 have arrived in the last few months.

While the U.S. has seen a larger than tenfold rise in the number of Chinese migrants with 37,000 of them being arrested in 2023, there has been no evidence that they have tried to mount a military force or training network. Interviews with some of these migrants reveal they were coming to escape China or looking for a better life.

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CLAIM: “This is the crime that I committed that I’m supposed to go to jail for 187 years for when you have violent crime all over this city at levels that nobody’s ever seen before.”

THE FACTS: Crime in New York City is nowhere near the levels seen in the 1990s. The latest crime data from the NYPD shows major crime reports are down this year compared with the same period last year. Through the first week of May, the number of murders was down more than 15% from the same period last year, and down 26% from 2021. Shootings have dropped 41% since 2021.

Each of Trump’s 34 charges is punishable by up to four years in prison. That adds up to 136 years behind bars. Regardless, New York imposes a maximum of 20 years for consecutive sentences on such charges. Trump’s punishment is ultimately up to Merchan, but there’s no guarantee the judge will give Trump time behind bars.

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CLAIM: “They’re falsifying business records. That sounds very bad. You know, it’s only a misdemeanor.”

THE FACTS: Trump was convicted on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. This is not a misdemeanor. It is a Class E felony in New York, the lowest tier of felony charges in the state.

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CLAIM: “This is about a federal election, not a state election. You’re not even allowed to look at it. They took the state and the city and they went into a federal election. They’re not allowed.”

THE FACTS: Manhattan prosecutors didn’t charge Trump with federal violations — that’s not allowed — but they listed the allegations as one of three “unlawful acts” that jurors were asked to consider as they weighed the charges. To convict Trump, jurors had to find that not only did he falsify business records, but that he did so to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors said the other crime was a violation of a state election law barring conspiracies to promote or prevent an election by unlawful means. Jurors then had three alleged “unlawful means” to choose from. One of them involved federal campaign finance violations.

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FACT FOCUS: Trump responds to guilty verdict with attacks and false claims