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Donald Trump

A guilty verdict? Donald Trump and allies are bracing voters for the worst

WASHINGTON - When former president and 2024 candidate Donald Trump claims that the judicial system wants to put him in jail, he's not just protesting the ongoing hush money trial.

Trump is also bracing voters for the possibility of a guilty verdict.

At political rallies, on social media, and to reporters gathered at the courthouse in New York, Trump's attacks on the trial are designed in part to persuade voters to disregard a bad verdict, according to aides, legal analysts, and a review of his remarks.

"The New York judicial system has been absolutely abused," Trump told reporters Friday. "The whole world is watching."

Trump is accused of improperly influencing the 2016 presidential election by paying hush money to women, seeking to keep them from publicizing sexual liaisons. He has pleaded not guilty.

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Former president Donald Trump addresses the media along side his attorney Todd Blanche before resuming his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court for falsifying documents related to hush money payments, in New York, NY, on Friday May 10, 2024. The former President is expected to spend the next few weeks in attendance at his trial for falsification of business records, to cover up payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who allegedly had an encounter with Trump before he was in office.

Trump targets moderate voters

Trump has not explicitly said he expects a guilty verdict, and occasionally expresses public optimism about the outcome of the trial. "Many good things are going on in the case," the former said Thursday.

But he has spent much more time claiming political bias by the judge, prosecutors and the jury pool, and argues without evidence that his political opponents will do anything to put him behind bars.

Trump and supporters have also predicted that a guilty verdict would be reversed on appeal, a step that would not be necessary if he is acquitted or if there is a hung jury.

Legal experts said Trump has little choice but to brace for a guilty verdict, given how it might affect his campaign against President Joe Biden.

In claiming the trial is unfair, Trump's targets include moderate and independent voters who have long been skeptical of his behavior.

"His base will believe everything he says," said Bradley P. Moss, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who specializes in government transparency issues. "The question is independents."

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN - APRIL 02: Former 91影视 President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event on April 02, 2024 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Trump delivered a speech which his campaign has called "Biden's Border Bloodbath", as recent polls have shown that immigration and the situation at the 91影视 Southern border continue to be top issues on voters' minds going into the November election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Trump appeals to New Jersey

Trump's latest effort to brace supporters for bad legal news comes Saturday at a campaign rally in Wildwood, N.J.

This will be Trump's first campaign rally since a May 1 airport event in Freeland, Mich., where he went on at length about his legal concerns.

While discussing the ongoing New York trial, Trump said "we haven't had a decision here, but the decision here can probably only be one thing, I guess ... 'cause ... this whole thing - it's a rigged deal; it's a rigged deal."

Trump also equated the hush money trial to the major civil cases he has lost, one over bank loan fraud and two others regarding defamation and sexual abuse of writer E. Jean Carroll.

Altogether, civil courts have ordered Trump to pay more than $500 million in damages.

"Hopefully, we'll win all of that stuff easily on appeal," Trump said at one point in Michigan.

Deborah Tarasoff, an employee in the Trump Organization鈥檚 accounting department, is questioned by prosecutor Christopher Conroy before Justice Juan Merchan during former 91影视 President Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, 91影视 May 6, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.

'Orchestrating Trump's conviction'

Trump is also trying to discount the New York verdict by citing legal analysts who agree with his criticisms of the case. Some of them say they believe Trump is bound for a guilty verdict because of the way the trial is being conducted by New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan.

In on May 5, Trump cited comments by former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy that described "how Judge Merchan is orchestrating Trump's conviction."

Trump also attacks the gag order against him, describing it as an attempt to fix the case. Merchan has found Trump in violation of the gag order ten items over attacks on witnesses and court personnel.

In reading out criticisms of the case on Friday, Trump said he has to be careful because of the gag order: "If I mention the wrong word, they'll come out here and they'll take me out to jail some place, because that's the way it is with this judge - he wants to show how tough he is."

In this handout photo provided by the 91影视 Department of Justice, stacks of boxes can be observed in a bathroom and shower in The Mar-a-Lago Club鈥檚 Lake Room at former 91影视 President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on 37 felony counts in the special counsel's classified documents probe.

Rerun: Trump previously warned of indictments

The political world has seen this kind of courtroom drama previously, back before Trump was first indicted.

In late 2022 and early 2023, Trump braced supporters for the likelihood of indictments, and sought to taint them ahead of time by decrying the investigations as politically motivated.

In June of 2023, three months after the hush money indictment, Trump told a Republican group in New Hampshire that "there could be others coming," and described them as "election interference."

Trump wound up under indictment in four separate criminal cases.

In addition to the New York hush money case, the former president faces trial in South Florida on charges of mishandling classified information, and two cases in Washington, D.C., and Georgia on federal and state charges respectively of trying to steal the 2020 election from Biden.

Trump is seeking to delay the latter three trials to beyond Election Day on Nov. 5. He may succeed, leaving the New York case as his only trial during the election campaign.

Politically, the indictments may have helped Trump, at least with hardcore Republican voters who fueled his drive toward the 2024 presidential nomination.

Polls and primaries also reflected skepticism of Trump from moderate and independent voters, some of whom continued to support former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley even after she dropped out of the race.

Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after testifying at former US President Donald Trump's trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, in New York City, on May 9, 2024. Adult film actress Daniels returned to the witness stand on Thursday at Trump's hush money trial for another round of grilling by attorneys for the former president.

Political impact

In the meantime, Trump is preparing for an actual verdict in the New York case - and a political impact that is unknowable.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who is often cited by Trump, said the former president's complaints about a "weaponized justice system" are legitimate.

Even if Trump is convicted, Turley said, he has a good chance to have the case reversed on appeal because "the entire case is becoming a dumpster fire."

Turley also said "no one would bet on an acquittal from a New York jury on Trump," but it's possible that jurors will deadlock and be unable to render any verdict.

Trump could legitimately celebrate a hung jury as a victory, he said.

Whatever the merits of the case, Moss said Trump has been treated fairly by the justice system. For example, Moss said that any other defendant would be in jail now for violating gag orders the way Trump has. "If anything," he said, "he's been handled with kid gloves."

Moss also said that, while Trump's base will stick with him no matter what, it's hard to see how a guilty verdict would help him.

"I don't see anything good coming out of this for Trump," Moss said. "The question is how much damage it does."

Contributing: Bart Jansen

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