Flickr/Gage Skidmore

On May 30th, 2024, former U.S. President Donald Trump was convicted of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in his hush money case. He asserted his innocence as he exited the courtroom following the verdict announcement, stating, “this was a rigged, disgraceful trial.”

So, was the trial ‘rigged’? What is behind claims that the trial was politically motivated?

In general, reactions to the verdict were starkly divided along partisan lines. Many on the left applaud the verdict, believing that the procedures were carried out like any other criminal case and the decision was fair. Many on the right defend Trump’s allegations, calling the justice system ‘weaponized’ and the verdict invalid due to partisan bias.

Here’s what to know about the case and the potential misinformation associated with it:

Claims of the Trial Being Rigged

Many Donald Trump supporters and some of his critics jumped to Trump’s defense following his conviction. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who has endorsed Trump, took to social media calling the conviction a “hoax,” and accusing President Joe Biden of “weaponizing the justice system” against a political opponent. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) called the trial a “political exercise, not a legal one.” 

Even Republican officials who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the January 6th insurrection agree with his narrative. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) refused to endorse Trump’s 2024 campaign, yet she criticized the district attorney for bringing the charges “because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct,” implying Alvin Bragg sought to target the former president. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who voted to impeach Trump twice, called the case “political malpractice.”

Throughout the trial, Donald Trump accused Judge Juan Merchan and the prosecutors of being a part of a plot to weaponize the justice system against him to harm his political campaign. Several Republicans demonstrated their willingness to defend the former president by taking actions to delegitimize the verdict.

Some representatives formed the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government in January 2023 to investigate whether state or local prosecutors were unfairly targeting Trump. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) called DA Bragg and Matthew Colangelo, senior counsel to the DA’s office, to testify in front of the subcommittee on June 13. Additionally, a group of eight Republican senators are vowing to vote against any Democratic legislation in protest of former President Trump’s conviction.

Media Coverage About Rigging Claims

Dan Abrams invited Megyn Kelly onto NewsNation (Center bias) following the verdict announcement to discuss Trump’s conviction. Kelly asserted that Abrams was “wrong” for stating that Trump was guilty of violating campaign finance laws, calling DA Bragg a “partisan hack.” 

Similarly, she stated that Justice Merchan was “complicit” in the act of bringing invalid charges against Donald Trump. Abrams responded by stating that “there was definitely wrongdoing” by Trump, to which Kelly asked, “What was it?” Abrams asserted that it was wrong to pay “a porn star to keep her quiet, to protect your political campaign.”

This conversation between Abrams, the former general manager of MSNBC (Left bias), and Kelly, a long-time Fox News (Right bias) host, reflects the conflicting narratives portrayed by left and right media sources about the verdict.

Sources on the left tend to view the GOP’s questioning of the rule of law as unsubstantiated and harmful. Some believe that the narrative attacks the US judicial system as a whole and reflects a scheme to undermine the legitimacy of the political system. Others attempt to compare Trump’s claims with the rhetoric of dictators and autocratic leaders. 

A Harvard Law professor interviewed by the Washington Post (Lean Left bias) said the attacks on the judicial system “pave the path to dictatorship.” Similarly, some suggest that the GOP’s defense of Trump is unwise and shows that the party is losing its strength.

Sources on the right reaffirm the ‘rigged’ narrative, criticizing the evidence and actors involved in the trial. Many sources highlight commentary by experts and politicians that support Trump’s claims. Fox News (Right bias) interviewed a different Harvard Law professor, who declared the verdict marks the beginning of a “war of weaponization” with the criminal justice system. 

Some take aim at DA Bragg, claiming that the charges were unsubstantiated and asserting that he unfairly targeted Trump due to political motivation. Others take aim at Judge Merchan claiming that he is biased against Trump due to his political beliefs. 

Analysis: Is There a Basis to These Claims? 

Here’s a what we know about the common claims being made to support the narrative that the trial was rigged:

District Attorney Alvin Bragg

Alvin Bragg assumed the office of the New York County District Attorney in 2022 after being elected in 2021. Prior to his current role, Bragg served as the Chief Deputy Attorney General of New York and oversaw litigation brought by the state against the Donald Trump Foundation.

Some accused Bragg of ‘rigging’ the trial, questioning his motives for bringing the charges and suggesting evidence that Bragg unfairly targeted Trump. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York chose not to bring charges against Trump in a similar case, just months before the Manhattan DA’s office opened its investigation. Many believe this is evidence that DA Bragg shouldn’t have brought the charges in the first place, casting doubt on the strength of Bragg’s legal theory.

The former Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance, opened the criminal investigation to determine whether Trump committed financial fraud. The investigation began in 2020 and was underway before Bragg assumed office in 2022. While some say that Bragg ran his DA campaign on a platform to prosecute Trump, he was initially hesitant to continue the investigation. 

Bragg did make several remarks about his expertise related to Donald Trump’s various cases; however, he initially suspended the investigation when he assumed office. This decision prompted two lead prosecutors in the investigation to resign, believing their investigation had generated sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the former president.

DA Bragg eventually resumed the investigation, which ended in March 2023 when Trump was indicted on charges of falsifying business records in the first degree. Bragg’s legal theory has been scrutinized in recent weeks. 

The district attorney charged Trump under New York Penal Law, under which falsifying business records alone is a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor has a statute of limitations of 2 years, meaning Trump could not be charged for his conduct in 2016. Bragg raised the charge to a felony by alleging that Trump concealed the records with “intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof.” Bragg argued that there were several crimes that Trump intended to commit, but the alleged election violations are the most contentious.

The district attorney argued that Trump violated federal campaign finance law under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), as well as New York Election laws, which makes it illegal to “promote… the election of any person by unlawful means.” The prosecution argued that the former president falsified business records to conceal information that would harm his presidential campaign. 

Trump’s defense and critics of the legal theory have questioned the validity of a federal crime serving as the “other crime” in the state charges. In fact, no state prosecutor has ever charged federal election laws as a direct or predicate state crime.

Similarly, Bragg has been accused of failing to address widespread crime in New York City due to his focus on the Trump case. New documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the prosecutor spent $1 million in the New York v. Trump case. The money was used to respond to congressional oversight of his prosecution at a time when New York City officials were demanding budget cuts across all agencies. 

Additionally, several GOP lawmakers have accused the Department of Justice of inappropriately conspiring with the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Matthew Colangelo, a former DOJ official who was involved in the DOJ Trump investigation, took a job with the Manhattan district attorney after the DOJ dropped the case. Colangelo worked on Manhattan’s Trump investigation. Attorney General Merrick Garland has asserted that the DOJ has no influence on the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Judge Juan Merchan

Judge Juan Merchan is a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who was appointed to the Supreme Court of New York, New York County in 2009. Merchan presided over the 2022 Trump Organization tax fraud trial, which sentenced the former CFO to prison over his role in the matter.

Some have said that Merchan cannot be impartial due to donations he made to progressive campaigns in 2020 and because his daughter has close ties with high ranking Democratic officials.

Merchan made $10 donations to the groups Stop Republicans and Progressive Turnout Project in 2020. Additionally, Merchan donated $15 to Biden’s 2020 campaign. Judges are prohibited from donating to political campaigns. 

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated dozens of judges, including Merchan, who violated rules against political contributions. The commission found Merchan to have no conflict of interest, although he was reportedly issued a warning.

Additionally, Trump has raised questions about Merchan’s ability to remain impartial due to his daughter’s professional relationships with Democratic officials. Loren Merchan works for Authentic Campaigns, which has provided digital marketing services for several Democratic campaigns.

Trump’s defense raised these concerns, attempting to prevent Merchan from presiding over the trial. The judge refused to recuse himself because of his political donations. House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) filed an ethics complaint regarding the concerns about Merchan’s daughter. The ethics committee found the judge to have no conflict of interest relating to his daughter’s profession, and the complaint was denied. 

So, Was the Trial Rigged?

Thus far, there is no evidence of direct ‘rigging’ of the trial against Trump. There is circumstantial evidence to support the idea that partisan bias may have played a role, such as Judge Merchan’s connections to Democrats, but none that proves political motivation was a factor in the decision to take the case.

Trump's verdict was determined by a unanimous jury, not the judge or prosecutor. The jury reportedly included people with various political backgrounds. 

Calling Trump’s hush money trial ‘rigged’ remains a matter of opinion and isn’t based on hard facts, but rather a perception that Merchan and Bragg unfairly targeted Trump due to political motivations. 

Olivia Geno is a Content Intern for AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias. 
Reviewed and edited by Joseph Ratliff, Content Designer and News Editor (Lean Left bias), Henry A. Brechter, Editor-in-chief (Center bias), and Kai Lincke, Content Intern (Lean Left bias).