Trump's criminal hush money trial has its first seven jurors


  • World
  • Tuesday, 16 Apr 2024

FILE PHOTO: New York, NY - April 15 : Former President Donald Trump walks out of the courtroom following the first day of jury selection at the Manhattan criminal court in New York, NY on Monday, April 15, 2024. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged scheme to silence claims of extramarital sexual encounters during his 2016 presidential campaign. Jabin Botsford/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The first seven jurors were selected on Tuesday to serve on Donald Trump's hush-money criminal trial, as the selection process continues to choose a panel of 12 members and six alternates who can be fair to the former U.S. president.

The judge also warned lawyers that he would not tolerate any efforts to intimidate prospective jurors after saying Trump, the Republican candidate for president in the Nov. 5 election, was audibly muttering while one of the possible members of the panel was questioned.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. Daniels says she had a sexual encounter with Trump about a decade beforehand.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies an encounter took place. He has called the case, brought by Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a partisan "witch hunt" meant to interfere with his campaign to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden.

The hush money case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces, which also stem from trying to overturn his 2020 loss and alleged mishandling of classified information. He has also pleaded not guilty to those charges, though the other three cases may not go to trial before the election.

The seven jurors selected on Tuesday included a man originally from Ireland who enjoys doing "anything outdoorsy" and watches both MSNBC and Fox News, a woman who works as an oncology nurse and enjoys taking her dog to the park, and a corporate lawyer who said he does not follow the news that closely.

During questioning by Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche earlier on Tuesday, the nurse said she did not have a strong opinion about Trump.

But, she said, "No one is above the law."

Jury selection began on Monday, and is set to resume on Thursday after a day off on Wednesday. Justice Juan Merchan said opening statements could take place next Monday but warned that could be delayed.

TRUMP WANTS 'A FAIR SHAKE'

The process so far has highlighted the challenges of choosing a group of impartial jurors from heavily Democratic Manhattan.

More than half the initial pool of 96 jurors called were dismissed on Monday after saying they did not believe they could be fair.

In questioning some who remained on Tuesday, Blanche said he did not care about jurors' politics but wanted to get a sense of whether they could be fair to Trump as an individual.

"It's extraordinarily important to President Trump that we know that we're going to get a fair shake," the attorney said.

The jurors are anonymous except to Trump and lawyers for both sides.

Several prospective jurors said they did not have strong opinions about Trump, or said their opinions were not relevant to the case.

"If we were sitting in a bar, I'd be happy to tell you," said one jury candidate, a man who works at a bookstore and enjoys going to Broadway shows. "But, in this room, what I feel about President Trump is not important."

Merchan ultimately dismissed the juror.

In questioning jurors earlier on Tuesday, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said the case was not a referendum on Trump's presidency.

"This case is really not about whether you like Donald Trump," Steinglass said. "This case is about the rule of law and whether Donald Trump broke it."

'I WON'T TOLERATE THAT'

With jurors outside the courtroom, Merchan told lawyers for both sides that Trump had been audibly muttering and gesturing while one prospective juror was being questioned. The judge told Trump lawyer Blanche to speak to his client about his behavior.

"I won't tolerate that," the judge said. "I will not have any jurors intimidated in the courtroom."

Trump has routinely tested judges' tolerance during his recent legal woes, and is currently subject to a gag order imposed by Merchan. It bars Trump from making statements about witnesses, court staff and family members that are meant to interfere with the case.

On Monday, prosecutors asked Merchan to fine Trump $1,000 for each of three social media posts this month that criticized Daniels and Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer who is expected to be a prominent witness in the trial.

Blanche said the former president was only responding to their criticism of him.

Merchan said he will consider the fines on April 23.

(This story has been refiled to add the title and first name of the judge in paragraph 9)

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Jack Queen; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)

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