Utah’s GOP candidates for A.G. are skeptical about Donald Trump’s felony conviction. Here’s why.

The Republicans’ opponents in the 2024 general election say that skepticism undermines trust in the court system.

All three of the Republican candidates to be Utah’s next attorney general harbor varying degrees of skepticism about the conviction of former President Donald Trump on 34 felonies for illegally concealing hush money payments to a former adult film star during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Following a recent primary election debate, Republican candidates Derek Brown, Rachel Terry and Frank Mylar all questioned the alleged political motives at play in charging the former president.

Mylar was the most critical of the outcome, calling it “one of the biggest miscarriages of justice that we’ve seen in a long time.”

“This is something that should frighten everyone in this country, what New York did,” Mylar said during the recent Republican candidate debate, adding that he believes the verdict will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case against the former president stemmed from business records that were falsified in order to conceal $130,000 in payments to Stormy Daniels to cover up an extramarital sexual encounter the two had in 2006. Trump denies having the affair.

A New York grand jury spent months hearing evidence from the indictment in March 2023 and, at the end of a six-week trial, a 12-member jury unanimously found Trump guilty of all 34 felony counts.

Terry said that she believes the jury did what it was asked, but the prosecution itself was politically motivated.

“When you say as part of the campaign, ‘I’m going to go after Trump and I’m going to prosecute him, I’m going to take him down,’ and then you do exactly that … then yes, it is a politicized prosecution,” she said.

During his campaign, New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg highlighted his record challenging Trump administration policies in court and for suing the nonprofit Trump Foundation for illegally collaborating with Trump’s 2016 campaign — which resulted in the foundation paying a $2 million fine. Bragg said he would continue the hush money investigation, which began years earlier under his predecessor.

“I believe we have to hold him accountable,” Bragg said in 2021. “I haven’t seen all the facts beyond the public, but I’ve litigated with him and so I’m prepared to go where the facts take me once I see them and hold him accountable.”

Terry hedged when she was asked whether, based on what she knows, she felt Trump broke the law, saying she doesn’t “know enough about the individual fact patterns” in the case.

“It seems, based on my read of it, that there were some improprieties in terms of reporting and such, but not, like, felony-level charges. I mean, these just weren’t,” she said. “When you say it’s a felony, that’s a big deal. And when you change it so that it’s something small … then a felony doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean.”

Brown said the guilty verdict undermines trust in the judicial process.

“One of the things we need to maintain in our country is trust in our institutions, trust in the elections process, trust in the judicial process,” he said. “With the recent verdict against President Trump there’s been a lot of concern about whether that was truly a guilty verdict or whether it was simply the fulfillment of a campaign promise, and those are the kind of things that undermine that trust.”

Brown echoed the other candidates, saying that Bragg “literally campaigned on a promise to go after another individual.”

“As someone who cares deeply about the judicial process, that gives me some heartburn,” he added.

Brown said he trusts the jury’s verdict and “according to the verdict and according to the trial” Trump broke the law. But the verdict will be appealed and the conviction may be reversed. That appeals process, he said, is “how you create that sense of confidence and trust in the legal system.”

The winner of the June 25 Republican primary will go on to face Democratic nominee Rudy Bautista and United Utah Party candidate Michelle Quist to be Utah’s next attorney general. (Quist is a former columnist and former member of The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board.)

In a statement this week, Quist said she was “surprised the three Republican candidates are willing to put their party loyalty over their duties and obligations as officers of the court and so easily willing to undermine this nation’s great judicial system.”

“We can’t start picking and choosing which verdicts we’ll support and which ones we’ll question or the system itself will crumble,” she said. “As officers of the court, we have ethical obligations to uphold our systems of justice. And our system is strong, with built-in safeguards that are still in play, including for former President Trump.”

Bautista said, even if the prosecutor has a political viewpoint, the judge and jury had no political motivations.

“He was convicted by a jury of his peers in a court of law, just like any other American,” he said in an interview. “To hear people who want to be the state’s top prosecutor say it was a miscarriage of justice is a slap in the face against everyone who has been a victim or accused of a crime in this country.”

Correction June 17, 11:50 a.m.• This story has been updated to correct Michelle Quist’s former role at The Salt Lake Tribune.

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