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Week in politics: Trump complains about his felony trial, Biden stands by verdict

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Donald Trump has been a businessman, a reality TV star and a household name even before he became president. This week, he also became a convicted felon when a New York jury found him guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records. Yesterday at Trump Tower...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: It's a rigged - it was a rigged trial. We wanted a venue change.

SIMON: ...Donald Trump complained. And he complained about the district attorney, about those who testified against him and especially the judge who presided.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: You saw what happened to some of the witnesses that were on our side. They were literally crucified by this man who looks like an angel, but he's really a devil. He looks so nice and soft.

SIMON: At the White House, President Joe Biden said that an American principle had been confirmed - no one is above the law, and he rejected Trump's complaints.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's reckless, it's dangerous, and it's irresponsible for anyone to say this was rigged just because they don't like the verdict.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What stood out to you about the verdict?

ELVING: First, that the jury came back so quickly. We had expected the jury to struggle, but they came back on the second day. They were decisive. They were unanimous. It only takes one holdout for a hung jury, so the speed and the clarity were striking. And we need to remember this was the least serious of Trump's four criminal cases. It could send him to jail, but that seems highly unlikely, given past sentencing patterns for this class of felony by a first-time offender. It's up to the judge. Still, it was the first criminal case to come to trial and produce a conviction. And even if the other trials are still delayed, this may have been the dawning of a day of reckoning for Trump.

SIMON: As you say, it's up to the judge, Juan Merchan. How do you read Donald Trump criticizing him so sharply?

ELVING: Well, it does seem curious to antagonize the one person with power to put you in prison. Trump has a long history, though, of attacking judges in his civil cases. He said a Spanish surnamed judge was biased against him because he wanted to build a wall on the border, and he has played that card with Merchan as well. There is a school of thought that says Trump wants to be put in jail, whether for a conviction or for contempt of court, that he wants it to fuel his martyrdom defense. He's raised tens of millions of dollars with his legal troubles. He did it with his mugshot down in Georgia, and he did it again this week.

SIMON: Donald Trump says it was a rigged trial, just as he said 2020 was a rigged election, which is not true. What are the implications of a major party candidate for president urging the American people to disregard both the electoral system and now the judicial system?

ELVING: Well, in fairness, to Donald Trump, he's not asking people to disregard elections or courts all the time - just when he loses. He's all for the rule of law so long as it rules in his favor. The question he wants posed here is ultimately not about American systems, electoral or judicial. It's just about one man - Donald Trump.

SIMON: Donald Trump called America a fascist state. I almost have to take a breath after that, as I have covered events in genuinely despotic states. Should Americans worry about the possibility of violence in the coming months?

ELVING: I have to take a breath just hearing you ask that question, Scott. But perhaps we should worry, at least more than in any other election years since World War II and maybe in the last century and a half. Obviously, the election of 1860 triggered the Civil War. But since then, we have prided ourselves on the peaceful transfer of power, even after elections that were disputed or difficult to resolve, or I should say that was the case until January 6, 2021.

SIMON: And let me ask about the political implications of Donald Trump's conviction. Does the fact that I even have to ask what are the political implications - is that a boost to President Biden's campaign?

ELVING: The answer is far from clear. Some polling in the past has indicated a criminal conviction for Trump would bother some voters. But would that then include this conviction on these charges after this trial? We may soon see some polls that show Trump is actually getting a boost, even if only temporarily in some parts of the electorate, and it distracts from Biden talking about what he's done as president. And right now, the real task for Joe Biden is he needs to get people to feel better about those four years and about another four years of Joe Biden.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Very good to talk to you this week. Thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.