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Trump to escalate blame on trial judge Juan Merchan if sentenced to prison

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Trump to escalate blame on trial judge Juan Merchan if sentenced to prison

Donald Trump is determined to avoid jail, but if he does get handed a prison sentence after his conviction on 34 felony counts in New York last week, the former president’s inner circle is certain he will lay the blame squarely at the judge’s feet, sources familiar with the matter said.

The precise way Trump might blame the judge, Juan Merchan, remains unclear because Trump has been avoidant of the issue and the matter was not resolved when he huddled with his top advisers at a Trump Tower meeting immediately after the verdict on Thursday, the sources said.

But Trump is likely to double down on his attacks against Merchan, directing his supporters at rallies and in Truth Social posts to take up their grievances with the judge, one of the sources added.

The consequences of Trump’s likely rhetoric are difficult to predict. Trump has been railing against Merchan for months as being unfair and in conspiracy cahoots with the Biden administration to prevent him from campaigning – and nothing concrete has happened.

Still, Trump’s supporters have a history of making threats against judges Trump has assailed, including death threats to Tanya Chutkan, the US district judge who is presiding in his federal 2020 election interference case, and to the chambers of the New York judge who oversaw his civil fraud trial.

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Trump believes – correctly – that the ultimate decision with sentencing rests with Merchan, who has wide discretion to sentence him to fines or probation on the low end, to a carceral sentence on the high end, regardless of what prosecutors might request.

That reasoning would be the basis for Trump to hold the judge responsible for any fallout, in the event he hands down a jail term days before the Republican national convention – even if the sentence would almost certainly be stayed pending appeal.

Trump has already spent weeks railing against Merchan, taking advantage of the fact that the judge himself is not protected by the gag order. Both before and during the trial, Trump slammed the judge’s rulings as unfair and biased, and falsely suggested he was trying to stop him campaigning.

Just one day after the trial, Trump appeared to open a new front against Merchan in freewheeling remarks at a news conference at Trump Tower, where he suggested Merchan looked like an “angel” but was really the “devil”.

If a jail sentence does come, one of the sources said, they expected Trump to lash out in anger. But Trump has also been careful to not explicitly threaten or make foreboding warnings against Merchan to stave off prison.

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On Fox News Sunday, Trump said the public would not stand for him being sent to prison. “I’m not sure the public would stand for it. I think it would be tough for the public to take. At some point, there’s a breaking point”, he said, though the campaign was quick to clarify he was talking about the election.

To some degree, Trump has managed to put Merchan exactly where he wants him.

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Trump was in effect found guilty of using an unlawful hush-money scheme to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, which means if Merchan sentences him to anything less than jail, it could spark backlash that it did not encapsulate the gravity of Trump’s criminal conduct.

But if Merchan does actually sentence Trump to jail, the judge would be thrust forward by Trump as responsible for any fallout and any unrest from his supporters who have a history of engaging in political violence merely on the former president airing grievances.

At sentencing, Merchan will have the additional decision of whether to punish Trump not just for the conviction but also his clear lack of remorse and his repeated violations of the gag order, which would be reflected in Trump’s pre-sentencing report.

In New York, defendants convicted of felonies or serious misdemeanors are required to meet with a probation officer, who conducts a lengthy investigation and compiles a pre-sentencing report that the judge uses to determine what sentence to issue.

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The pre-sentencing report is typically one major opportunity that defendants have to make a good impression on the judge, including by expressing contrition. Trump has suggested none of that since his conviction, including by attacking the verdict the very next day.

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More Democratic lawmakers call for Joe Biden to withdraw from election race

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More Democratic lawmakers call for Joe Biden to withdraw from election race

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Eight more Democratic lawmakers, including a third US senator, have called for Joe Biden to withdrawn from this year’s White House presidential race, deepening the peril for his campaign for re-election.

In a joint statement on Friday morning, four US House members — Jared Huffman, Mark Pocan, Chuy Garcia and Marc Veasey — said it was time for the 81-year-old president to “pass the torch to a new generation of Democratic leaders”.

“We must face the reality that widespread public concerns about your age and fitness are jeopardising what should be a winning campaign,” the politicians added. House Democrats Sean Casten, Greg Landsman and Zoe Lofgren also called on Biden to drop out on Friday morning.

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Meanwhile, New Mexico senator Martin Heinrich became the third Democratic member of the upper chamber of Congress to urge Biden to drop out, joining Jon Tester of Montana and Vermont’s Peter Welch.

“This moment in our nation’s history calls for a focus that is bigger than any one person,” Henrich said, adding it was “in the best interests of our country” for the president to end his campaign.

Biden insisted on Friday that he would remain in the race, saying in a statement he “look[ed] forward to getting back on the campaign trail next week to continue exposing the threat of Donald Trump’s Project 2025 agenda”.

The president has been isolating at his holiday home in Delaware since testing positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said on Friday that Biden’s symptoms had “improved meaningfully” and he would continue taking Paxlovid, the antiviral drug.

The new wave of lawmakers calling for Biden to quit comes as Democratic party grandees such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the megadonors crucial to funding his campaign, heap pressure on him behind the scenes.

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The Financial Times reported on Thursday that donors and other senior party operatives believe Biden is very close to a decision to exit.

Chris Coons, the Democratic senator and close Biden ally, said on Friday that the president was getting the necessary advice to make a decision about his political future.

“I am confident he is hearing what he needs to hear,” he said while speaking on a panel at the Aspen Security Forum.

But Coons — who insisted Biden was “strong” and “capable” enough to carry on — acknowledged the unease within the Democratic party, saying: “There is a lot of concern and anxiety because the stakes are so significant.”

The latest interventions came a day after Trump formally accepted the Republican party’s nomination for president, less than a week after he narrowly escaped assassination in Pennsylvania.

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The former president has surged ahead of Biden in the polls despite his recent criminal convictions, building a lead across the crucial swing states that will decide November’s vote.

About 30 members of Congress have now said Biden needs to drop his re-election bid, a view shared privately by many more who have not yet gone public.

However, some Democrats, including many progressives, have supported him. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used an Instagram livestream in the early hours of Friday to fiercely defend the president and accuse “donors” and “elites” of trying to cast him and vice-president Kamala Harris aside.

Biden’s disastrous debate performance against Trump last month sparked panic in the Democratic party over his age and fitness for office. After testing positive for Covid in Nevada he was seen apparently struggling to ascend a staircase into Air Force One to return home.

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Escaped prisoner found in Georgia 30 years later, using the identity of a dead child

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Escaped prisoner found in Georgia 30 years later, using the identity of a dead child

Steven Johnson escaped from Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, Ore., during a prison work detail in 1994. He was arrested on Tuesday in Macon, Ga., where had had assumed the identity of a dead child.

Oregon Department of Corrections/Bibb County Sheriff’s Office


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Oregon Department of Corrections/Bibb County Sheriff’s Office

An Oregon fugitive that escaped from prison 30 years ago was arrested at his apartment on Tuesday afternoon in Macon, Ga. According to authorities, he had been living under the identity of a dead child.

Steven Craig Johnson, 70, fled from a prison work detail at the Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, Ore., in 1994. He was serving a state prison sentence for three counts of sex abuse and one count of attempted sodomy.

Johnson was listed on the Oregon Department of Corrections “Most Wanted” list. He was described as a pedophile who “presents a high probability of victimizing pre-teen boys.”

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At the time of his arrest, Johnson was using the alias William Cox. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, Johnson stole the identity of a child who died in Texas in 1962 after obtaining the child’s birth certificate and Social Security number in 1995.

Johnson secured a Georgia driver’s license in 1998, and had been living in Macon since 2011. The Oregon Corrections Department requested the U.S. Marshals to take on the search for Johnson in 2015. After pursuing multiple leads, new technology used by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service helped uncover new leads this year.

The facility Johnson escaped from was a minimum-security prison with no fence around it. Mill Creek prison closed in June 2021 under an order from former Gov. Kate Brown.

Johnson was booked into Bibb County Jail after arrest. He currently awaits extradition to Oregon.

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Video: Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

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Video: Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

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Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

Former President Donald J. Trump concluded the Republican National Convention on Thursday with a speech that ran for more than an hour and a half.

[music: “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood] I am running to be president for all of America, not half of America. Because there is no victory in winning for half of America. So tonight, with faith and devotion, I proudly accept your nomination for President of the United States. Thank you. We will very quickly make America great again. Thank you very much.

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