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The significance of a guilty verdict for a former U.S. president


We'll turn now to presidential historian and current president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, Mark K. Updegrove. Thanks for being here.

MARK K UPDEGROVE: Pleasure to be with you.

SUMMERS: I just want to recap what we know here because this has been a really unprecedented situation, with former President Donald Trump found guilty on all 34 felony charges. Can I get just a brief reaction for what you're hearing?

UPDEGROVE: Well, it's a very sobering moment in American history. And I'm reminded of the moment 50 years ago when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in the wake of obstruction of justice charges. And I'm reminded of what Gerald Ford said to the nation upon taking office. And he said, our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not men. Here, the people rule.

And we have seen today that we are indeed a nation of laws and not men. And a jury of Donald Trump's peers - all 12 of them - made their ruling. And we have seen that the people do indeed rule, and Donald Trump has been convicted of 34 felony counts. So it is a very sobering day to see the former president of the United States of America guilty of a crime. For the first time in American history, we've seen a president guilty of a crime. So it's a very big day in American history, a very sobering day.

SUMMERS: We've been watching this play out in real time, and I'll just recap that we know now that former President Trump's sentencing is scheduled for July 11. We heard from former President Trump not too long ago. He was talking about his feelings about the case, saying that the real verdict will be rendered on November 5, which is Election Day, by the people of this country. If you heard what the former president said in those remarks after leaving the courthouse, is there anything that stuck out to you based on what we've heard from past presidents?

UPDEGROVE: Well, yeah, I mean, Donald Trump is anomalous for so many reasons. But I think his narrative has always been that there's a deep state out to get him, and here's evidence of the deep state once again trying to go after him. It's been a very powerful narrative. It has worked with a large swath of the American public, and we are bound to see Donald Trump sound that message again as he gets more and more desperate as he looks still to be the likely nominee of his party for the Republican nomination. I don't think we've seen the last of Donald Trump talking about how this is about him and about this deep state.

SUMMERS: I mean, I know that you're a presidential historian, but we have this unique situation where we have this former president who is also the presumptive Republican nominee found guilty on these 34 felony charges - all 34 charges. There's virtually no chance this is not something that we see playing out on the campaign trail in the closing days until we get to November 5. What might that look like?

UPDEGROVE: It's anybody's guess because we hear the word unprecedented so often in association with Donald Trump. Here we are again. This is a truly unprecedented moment in American history. Donald Trump has - had a way of evading the law to this point, and now, again, we've seen this guilty verdict today on all 34 counts. How Donald Trump will use this to his advantage, we don't know. He's been able to exploit unfortunate events in his life to his political advantage, and he's done so very successfully.

SUMMERS: All right. We've been talking with Mark Updegrove, the presidential historian and current president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation. Thank you.

UPDEGROVE: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBBIE SONG, "COUSINS CAR (FEAT. BERWYN)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.