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Missouri and Illinois lawmakers react to Trump guilty verdict in New York hush money case

Former President Donald Trump points out the media on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at a “Save America!” Rally at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon, Ill.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Former President Donald Trump points out the media at a June 2022 rally in Mendon, Ill.

Missouri and Illinois elected officials reacted swiftly to former President Donald Trump being found guilty of falsifying business records to cover up payments made to an adult film star in the run-up to the 2016 election.

A New York jury found Trump guilty of 34 felony counts on Thursday. The case revolved around whether Trump disguised hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels as legal services to his former attorney Michael Cohen — and whether the phony business records were to conceal other crimes such as violating campaign finance or tax laws.

This is the first time a former president has been convicted of a felony. And since Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee for president, the guilty verdict could throw a curveball into the 2024 election cycle.

The consequential nature of the verdict is likely why Republicans and Democrats from Missouri and Illinois reacted so swiftly to the verdict. Here’s what some elected officials said on Thursday afternoon.

Democrats champion rule of law

Many Missouri and Illinois Democrats called the verdict a victory for the rule of law in America — showing that even a former president can be found guilty if the evidence is strong enough.

"I would just say that what this proves is that no one is above the law in this country,” said Illinois Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield. “Someone that is now a 34-time convicted felon should not serve in the highest office in this country — full stop."

Illinois Sen. Sen. Dick Durbin said in a statement "consistent with the rule of law, a jury of his peers found the former president guilty on all counts."

"Today’s verdict is another reminder that Donald Trump is unfit for public service," Durbin said. "Now, it is up to the American people to decide if he is worthy of the seat behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.”

Missouri Congressman Emanuel Cleaver echoed his colleague’s sentiments in his statement, saying that “just as every American is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, we are equally guaranteed that no individual, including a former president, is above accountability.”

The Kansas City Democrat added that he hoped his fellow Americans “will take this moment to reflect deeply on the road we walked to reach this point and which direction we want to take moving forward.”

"While equal justice under the law is essential to our republic and worthy of praise, there should be no celebration that a former president is now a convicted felon," Cleaver said. "Donald Trump represented the United States of America on the world stage, and his conviction on 34 separate felony counts, in addition to other indictments around the country, is an embarrassment to the nation and a black eye to our image around the world.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on the social media platform X that Trump “is a racist, a homophobe, a grifter, and a threat to this country. He can now add one more title to his list - a felon.”

“Justice has been served,” Pritzker said in a statement. “After facing a jury of his peers, Donald Trump is exposed as the liar and fraud that he is. Trump tried to evade the law to try and deceive voters and today, the law caught up with him.”

Republicans decry verdict as unfair

Illinois and Missouri Republicans took a much different tack to Trump’s guilty verdict.

Missouri Congressman Jason Smith of Salem said on X that the “American people see this for what it is: an attempt to distract from Biden’s weak and failing leadership." And Congresswoman Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, said on X that Thursday’s verdict “is shameful and will be overturned on appeal.”

“President Trump will lead this country forward towards peace and prosperity while President Biden continues to make the lives of everyday Americans worse in every meaningful way,” Wagner said. “The American people will render their verdict on this sham trial in November.”

Both of Missouri’s U.S. senators, Sens. Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt, said in a series of posts on X that the verdict could increase support for Trump’s bid against Biden.

“This ‘trial’ has been from beginning to end a complete and total sham, a mockery of the criminal justice system, and one of the most dangerous abuses of our political process in American history,” Hawley wrote.

Schmitt added “today will be remembered as the day Trump got elected 47th … President of the United States.”

“The Democrats haven’t begun to comprehend the level of intensity there is to elect Trump now, defeat their Lawfare and reclaim our Constitutional Republic from those who seek to turn it into a banana republic in exchange for political power,” Schmitt wrote on X.

Public polling has shown that the outcome of the hush money trial would have minimal impact on the presidential election, though some conducted before the verdict do show that some independent voters may be less likely to vote for Trump if he was convicted of a felony.

Illinois Congressman Mike Bost of Murphysboro said in a statement that the trial “along with all the character attacks, campaign interference and Hollywood cameos that surrounded it, had one purpose: to weaken President Trump before the 2024 election.”

“It won’t work,” Bost said. “Even after today’s verdict, he is strengthened with an American public that is fed up with liberals weaponizing the legal system for their partisan political gain."

Reaction wasn’t limited to current or aspiring federal officials.

All three major Republican candidates for Missouri governor — Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and state Sen. Bill Eigel — took to X to slam the jury’s decision to convict Trump.

Kehoe wrote that “this entire trial was a political stunt and a complete weaponization of our judicial system,” adding “Americans will overwhelmingly" elect Trump in November. Eigel called the verdict “rigged” on X and a “disgraceful sham.” Ashcroft said in a post that the verdict constituted “a dark day in America,” adding, “Appeal!“

Trump is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11, several days before he’s slated to accept the GOP nomination for president in Milwaukee.

St. Louis Public Radio's Will Bauer contributed information for this article

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.