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Tumultuous Trump trial day ends with 12 jurors, 1 alternate selected

NEW YORK — A 12-member jury was assembled for Donald Trump’s hush money trial on Thursday hours after two previously sworn-in jurors were removed, illustrating the intense scrutiny and potential public exposure that comes with sitting in judgment of the former president and likely 2024 Republican White House nominee.

Seven men and five women have been picked, along with the first of what is expected to be a group of six alternates. Jury selection will resume Friday. While it is possible that additional sworn-in jurors will also drop out or be removed, requiring more to be screened and chosen, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said he expected opening statements on Monday.

Some of the selected jurors said during questioning that they have personal views of Trump or his presidency but could remain impartial in the case. One spoke favorably of him, saying she liked that he “speaks his mind.” Another told the court, “I don’t like his persona.”

Overall, the jurors showed a range of knowledge about his court cases, with several saying they didn’t follow the news closely.

Trump is the first former U.S. president to stand criminal trial. He faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with reimbursement of a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election. Prosecutors have accused Trump of classifying the reimbursement as a legal expense, rather than a campaign expense, and of authorizing the payment to Daniels to keep her from publicly accusing him just before the 2016 election of a tryst she alleged happened years earlier.

It is one of four criminal indictments against Trump; the other three trials are delayed and may not happen before the election.

In addition to picking a jury, lawyers have been sparring in the courtroom this week over whether Trump has repeatedly violated a gag order by making public comments and social media posts related to witnesses and others Merchan has said should be protected.

That discussion led to an extraordinary exchange late Thursday in which Trump’s lawyer pledged to keep his client from posting about witnesses and the judge said he did not think that was possible.

On the first day of the trial, prosecutors asked for Trump to be held in contempt and fined $1,000 for each of what they said were three violations. Before juror candidates came into the courtroom Thursday, prosecutors alleged that Trump had violated his gag order “seven more times” in recent days by repeatedly highlighting articles and tweets disparaging the credibility of Michael Cohen, a key government witness who was once Trump’s lawyer and fixer, and that of the jurors selected on the second day of the trial. They are seeking another $7,000 in penalties.

Prosecutors specifically cited Trump’s post on his social media site Truth Social of a quote from Fox News anchor Jesse Watters speculating that some of the prospective jurors are “undercover Liberal Activists lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury.”

Trump’s attorneys said the post did not violate the order. The judge has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning to discuss the issue.

Prosecutors said that Trump’s alleged violations pose a threat to people involved in the case and their families and that they were the reason the government does not plan to give defense lawyers advance notice of which witnesses will be called when — a common courtesy in most criminal trials.

“Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said. “We’re not telling them who the witnesses are.”

Merchan said he “can’t blame” prosecutors for their decision and refused to order the district attorney to provide the names. He flatly expressed doubt that Trump’s lawyers could keep their client quiet in exchange for the names — a concession that defense lawyer Todd Blanche offered despite the fact that he has been adamantly fighting the gag order and complaining that it violates Trump’s rights.

Blanche offered to “commit to the Court and the People that President Trump will not Truth about any witness,” referring to Truth Social.

“I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said.

Even after Blanche offered to withhold the witness names from Trump, Merchan refused to compel Steinglass to coordinate with the defense team.

At the start of the day, seven jurors had been sworn onto the jury, with five more and about six alternates still needed. But by midmorning it seemed like things were moving in the other direction.

A woman who had been selected as Juror No. 2 said she no longer thought she could be open-minded. She had called the court the previous night to say she was concerned that people in her life had identified her as a juror, apparently based on news reports or pundit commentary, even though her name had not been said in open court.

“Yesterday alone I had friends, colleagues and family push things to my phone regarding questioning my identity as a juror,” the woman said after being called into court to speak to the judge and the attorneys. “I don’t believe at this point that I can be fair and unbiased and let the outside influences not affect my decision-making in the courtroom.”

Merchan then directed reporters covering the case to refrain from publishing or publicly discussing identifiable details relating to potential jurors. He later clarified that two facts in particular were off limits: where the jury candidates are employed, and where they previously worked.

Professional backgrounds had been discussed openly since jury selection began, as candidates read answers to a lengthy biographical questionnaire and also spoke about their jobs through voir dire questioning by the prosecution and defense.

A second panelist, who had been selected as Juror No. 4, also underwent additional questioning Thursday. He had issues related to the criminal justice system that he did not reveal during the earlier rounds of screening, but he also told Merchan that he was anxious about what had been publicly revealed about him during the process.

“He expressed annoyance also at how much information had been public about him,” Merchan noted as the man was excused.

In the afternoon, lawyers resumed the individual questioning of jury candidates about issues pertinent to the case, their lives and about whether they could set aside personal feelings about Trump to sit in judgment of him fairly.

One woman who was eventually picked for the jury conceded that she thought Trump “seems very selfish and self-serving.” Like everyone who was selected, she promised that she could evaluate the case based only on the evidence that will be presented — putting her feelings on Trump aside.

The trial is slated to last six to eight weeks.

Perry Stein, Mark Berman, Derek Hawkins, Patrick Svitek and Maegan Vazquez in Washington contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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