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What the Trump verdict could mean for presidential powers going forward


William Howell is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He's an expert on the American presidency and presidential power. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WILLIAM HOWELL: Hey. Thanks for having me.

DETROW: We've been thinking about this in the context of the presidential campaign we're in the middle of, and I want to come back to that soon. But first, I just want to zoom out with you. Donald Trump has been impeached twice. He was acquitted by the Senate both times even though the second time, a majority of the Senate voted guilty. Now he is the first president in American history to be convicted in a criminal court room. What does this mean for Trump? What does this mean for this moment to you?

HOWELL: It's a big deal. It's a big deal for potentially - I mean, we'll see what it means for the upcoming election. I think we're going to see kind of a hardening on the right, jubilation on the left. And the question is whether or not people in the middle will shift one way or the other. But I think it matters in the interim - sort of in the intermediate period when we think about what's allowed for presidents going forward, what the boundaries are for presidents to take certain actions and whether or not they're going to be held to account legally. And Trump has, at least for now. We'll see what happens on appeal.

DETROW: Right.

HOWELL: And it's a very big deal.

DETROW: We'll see what happens on appeal, but we'll also see what happens in November. When you talk about what standards this sets for how much is allowed by a president, if he's convicted in a courtroom and then returned to the White House, what does that say about the presidency?

HOWELL: Well, I think it's what it says about our country. I mean, it will be really interesting to watch whether or not we as a country will see fit to elect a convicted felon to office. If we do, I mean, there's already been a lot of talk about how Trump 2.0 is not just going to be a continuation but an escalation of what the first Trump presidency looked like. And in the face of his reelection after being convicted in court, I mean, I think we'll see it's no holds barred. It will - things will really come untethered.

DETROW: There's been a lot of talk about these crimes - no longer alleged crimes because he's been found guilty - these crimes compared to the other things that Trump is facing trial for - attempting to overturn an election, holding onto classified documents with highly sensitive American secrets - that this was a much more diminished crime, that this is something that happened years ago now and would be a misdemeanor in many cases. How much does that factor to you into what matters historically about this moment?

HOWELL: Look, those things matter. The headline, though, is that he's a convicted felon, and we've never had a president be a convicted felon even though there's a long history of presidential scandal, even though there's a long history of presidents making very bad policy decisions, abusing their powers in all sorts of ways. We've never had a convicted felon. Now we do. The - it also is worth distinguishing the legal case against him in this instance as opposed to what its repercussions were for his ability to get elected in 2016, which is a very big deal. I think it's an open question how much has contributed to his ability to get elected. But to the extent that it's tied to that, it's tied to something big and important.

DETROW: About 30 seconds left. What's your biggest question going forward?

HOWELL: Biggest question is how the Republican Party, not in the short term - I think we know what it's going to look like in the short term - but how the Republican Party, over the long term, is going to respond to this.

DETROW: That is William Howell, a professor at the University of Chicago. Thank you so much.

HOWELL: Thanks for having me on.

DETROW: Again, former President Donald Trump found guilty on all 34 felony counts that he faced in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELMIENE SONG, "MARKING MY TIME") 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.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.