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Trump holds news conference following conviction on felony charges

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is giving a news conference at this hour. He's standing in front of a bank of American flags, in front of TV cameras, giving an extended, extended oration on what he feels was unfair about his criminal conviction, which made him the first former president in American history to be convicted of a crime. Now, let's review a little bit of what the president has had to say - the former president. We'll also hear a bit of it. He did a bit of presidential campaigning at the top, talked about immigrants, talked about emission mandates on cars, taking the opportunity to address some of the issues that, according to polls, matter more to many voters in this year's presidential election than Trump's conviction does.

But he also talked about that conviction. He denied the affair that is at the heart of this case. He complained about the judge, as he has many times. He claimed that witnesses were, quote, "literally crucified." That is a quote from the former president of the United States. He referred to a lawyer as a sleazebag - unnamed lawyer, he said, because of a gag order. Although, it appears to have been a reference to Michael Cohen, the key witness in a case against him of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to an adult film star in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign. The former president also described the heart of that charge, and let's hear some of his argument.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: They're falsifying business records. That sounds so bad. To me it sounds very bad. You know, it's only a misdemeanor, but to me, it sounds so bad. When they say falsifying business, that's a bad thing for me. I've never had that before.

INSKEEP: OK, that's a little bit of what the former president had to say. Let's talk about this with NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, who's in our studios here. And NPR's Ximena Bustillo is at Trump Tower, where the former president has been speaking. Ximena, what's your impression having listened to the top of this? OK, we don't have Ximena Bustillo. We may have her in just a moment. Let's try Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, what's your impression of what you've heard so far?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Well, you know, this is - Trump yesterday was - came out and was very hot about what he was talking about. He seemed to not be actually prepared for this verdict to come down. His team, you know, thought that they were going to be dismissed. And Trump came out, and it was honestly the most kind of peeved and a little bit - I don't know how to say it, that he just wasn't - he didn't seem to have it all - a PR message that was kind of all crystallized and put together.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MONTANARO: This was sort of his opportunity to come back out and show what he's going to be like for the rest of the campaign. It was a lot more calm. It might be low energy, in his words, in some respects. He was out there saying this was very unfair. He's, like you said, throwing out a lot of different allegations. It doesn't change the fact that a jury made up of 12, you know, members of this jury of his peers who unanimously convicted him. And because of the timeline here, it doesn't seem like even an appeals process will wind up overturning this conviction in time for the general election. So regardless, the thing Trump most didn't want is what he's going to get, and that's his name in a headline with convicted felon.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm interested in hearing you describe the former president yesterday as being a little bit somber, a little bit unhappy and down. He casts himself, he projects himself as a tough persona who's willing to fight for anything. But maybe what we see there is something human. It cannot be easy to be convicted by a jury of your peers, even if you're claiming that it's all rigged and unfair.

MONTANARO: And for as much as he wants to talk about, you know, oh, it's New York, he can't get a fair trial and all of this stuff - and that's what you're seeing in conservative media. And that's why you're probably not going to see much change especially among Republicans politically when it comes to this case.

The fact is he grew up in New York. New York is his home. And the fact that he was convicted in Manhattan, for someone from Queens - and I resemble that - you know, you're always looking to Manhattan as the place where you are looking for acceptance. You're going to the city. And this is the thing that happened with him and with his dad, his dad owning apartment buildings in Queens. That's fine, but it's not the same as being in the city. And when you have a jury of people in the city saying - you know what? - you're actually a convicted felon that has to hurt.

INSKEEP: I'm going to go to Domenico - I'm going to go to Ximena Bustillo in just a moment, Domenico. But first I want to ask about one thing. We heard an analyst this morning talking about the basic question at what point, if ever, would the former president go to prison, go to jail, be locked up? He has sentencing in July. But when you're sentenced, you don't necessarily automatically go right away to jail. You may be given an appointment sometime later. In your mind, is it plausible that the former president could face time behind bars before Election Day? That seemed like a wild and implausible thought to me until this morning.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, legal experts have been basically saying that, no, there's not likely a chance that Trump is going to jail at all - not before the election, not after the election. The penalties here range from probation to house arrest, to four years in prison.

INSKEEP: OK.

MONTANARO: But because he has no previous record, he's in his 70s, it's unlikely he's going to go to jail at all.

INSKEEP: OK, good for that. I mean, not good or bad, but it's good to have that clarification, is what I mean to say. So let's go to Ximena Bustillo to check some of the claims the former president is making about this trial. Ximena, you've covered the trial. And so I want to understand some of the things the former president is saying. He has said again and again and again that the judge was conflicted, that he had some kind of conflict. What is that referring to?

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Right, so Trump has argued that the judge has made donations in the past to Democratic candidates and a, quote, "anti-Trump group." And so he is alleging that the Trump - that the judge already has a bias. And he has made similar claims to members of the jury as well, accusing them of being, quote, "95% Democrats." That is a claim that ended up getting him slapped with a gag order by that judge.

INSKEEP: Oh, which is why the former president faces a gag order to this day. Just to be clear, this was a $35 donation to some ActBlue kind of group, that's what this alleged conflict is about?

BUSTILLO: Yes, I believe so. And this is not the first time that the judge has gone after the political affiliations of judges or of their families. We saw this in past New York trials, mostly his civil fraud case as well.

INSKEEP: OK. And just very briefly, he complained about losing a witness, the former head of the Federal Election Commission. Is that correct?

BUSTILLO: So while New York judge Juan Merchan did not prohibit this potential witness - it was Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith who was slated to testify on behalf of the defense. But Merchan did limit what Smith could testify about. You know, he could only provide background information.

INSKEEP: Oh, and in the end, he didn't get a chance to testify at all. OK, Ximena Bustillo and Domenico Montanaro, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You got it.

INSKEEP: Former President Trump delivering a news conference today after his criminal conviction. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.