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Trump's guilty verdict: A stress test for democracy

Trump's guilty verdict: A stress test for democracy
Trump's guilty verdict: A stress test for democracy 04:47

Historic … unprecedented … and guilty. You couldn't escape those words this past week, after a former President of the United States was convicted on 34 felony counts in New York, a city he long called home.

But beyond all the drama, said CBS News legal contributor Rebecca Roiphe, was simply a jury of seven men and five women doing their duty – and honoring the dictum, "Nobody is above the law."

"You can have all sorts of power, you can have all sorts of wealth, but when you're in that courtroom, you're just like anybody else," said Roiphe. "Of course, there are some people who are going to look at this case and not look at it that way."

Donald Trump is one of them.

"It was a rigged trial," he claimed a day after he was found guilty. "We wanted a venue change where we could have a fair trial. We didn't get it."

Trump New York Manhattan Criminal Court
Former President Donald Trump walks out to make remarks to the press at Trump Tower, one day after being found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, in New York, Friday, May 31, 2024.  Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, defended the legal system. "The jury heard five weeks of evidence," he said Friday. "They found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony counts. Now he'll be given the opportunity – as he should – to appeal that decision."

The gravity of this moment is obvious – a stress test for democracy, just as the Trump-Biden race is heating up. Less obvious is what happens next.

For example, can a convicted felon still serve as president? "Yes," said Roiphe. "We have certain limitations [in the Constitution] on the presidency, and that is not one of them. ... There's nothing barring somebody from either running for the presidency, or for being president, as a convicted felon."

Trump is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11, days before Republicans are set to nominate him again.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche admits it's possible his client could be in jail while the Republican National Convention is being held: "That's something that I don't want to think about," he said Friday. "I don't think it's going to happen. But it's possible, of course."

Regardless, the summer – with its debates, conventions, and other political fireworks – is likely to be a season of Trump's grievance.

Trump's campaign says it raised more than $50 million 24 hours after the guilty verdict. And Trump has kept top Republicans at his side (some showing up in court, in loyal red ties) at his side. 

Author Michael Wolff covered the trial, and has written several books on Trump. "This is a campaign, and this is a political career based on conflict, conflict, conflict, conflict," said Wolff. "Other politicians are going to go running away from conflict. He's running absolutely toward it.

"The fact that this person keeps going against these things that no one could shoulder, somehow – weirdly – makes him heroic to many, many, many, many people," Wolff said.

For Wolff, this crossroads is a reckoning of Trump – and of the combative New York world of infamous lawyers and fixers, hush money, and tabloids Trump has now made our own.

Costa asked Wolff, "As a longtime observer and writer on Trump, what do you make of him, someone who forged his career in the '70s and '80s alongside a New York lawyer like Roy Cohn, now finding himself a convicted felon in Lower Manhattan?"

"I mean, it almost is poetic," Wolff replied. "If you were a writer and you were writing this story, this is how you might have it end. The anomaly is that this is not necessarily where it ends, that it may well end in the White House."

CBS News

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Story produced by David Rothman. Editor: Chad Cardin. 

See also: 

Reality, as Trump supporters see it 10:58
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