Trump trial gets seven jurors seated in New York

Politics

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the second day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 16, 2024.

Mary Altaffer | AFP | Getty Images

The first seven jurors for the New York hush money trial of Donald Trump were seated Tuesday as Judge Juan Merchan said he expects opening statements to begin Monday morning.

Five more jurors and another six alternates remain to be picked. But the jury selection is proceeding at a faster pace than what was expected by many legal experts, who said it could take up to two weeks.

Those selected — a salesman, an oncology nurse, an attorney, an IT consultant, a teacher, a software engineer and a civil litigator — will sit for what is the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

After the trial adjourned Tuesday evening, Trump complained outside the courtroom that Merchan is “rushing this trial.”

The charges against Trump relate to an alleged scheme to conceal the nature of a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. His then-lawyer made that payment to prevent Daniels from disclosing her alleged sexual tryst with Trump years earlier.

Before the first group of jurors was selected Tuesday afternoon, Merchan warned Trump against intimidating the jury after he was heard talking toward a prospective juror.

“I will not tolerate that,” the judge said after that would-be juror left the courtroom. “I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom. I want to make this crystal clear.”

Merchan told Trump’s lawyers, “While the juror was about 12 feet from your client, your client was audibly saying something in her direction.”

“He was gesturing,” the judge said.

“Take a moment to talk with your client,” Merchan told the defense team.

Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche then whispered something to Trump, and the former president made a gesture indicating he understood what was said.

Trump’s remarks in the juror’s direction were not intelligible to NBC News reporters in the courtroom.

The judge said Trump was “muttering.”

Merchan’s warning came after the prospective juror was questioned about a social media post flagged by Trump’s lawyer, who claimed it showed her participating in a celebration of the 2020 election results.

Asked about the post, the woman juror said she was celebrating health-care workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. She insisted that she was capable of being impartial.

Merchan said he found her credible, apparently allowing her to remain in the jury selection process for now.

The would-be juror, who was identified in court only by a number, was one of 18 people who were being questioned by prosecutors and defense attorneys Tuesday as part of the jury selection process known as voir dire.

On Monday, more than 50 would-be jurors were promptly excused because of self-professed bias against Trump. That was more than half the first panel of 96 prospective jurors who were brought in to the courtroom that day.

More potential jurors were dismissed Tuesday morning after saying they could not be fair in judging the former president.

Former US President Donald Trump sits while his lawyer Todd Blanche speaks during the second day of jury selection in his hush money criminal trial in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, New York, U.S. April 16, 2024, in this court sketch.

Christine Cornell | Reuters

“I don’t think I can be as impartial or unbiased as I thought I could be,” one prospective juror said before being excused. Eight others were dismissed Tuesday morning, including multiple who said they could not be impartial to Trump.

The dismissals underscored the challenge of prosecuting the polarizing Republican presumptive presidential nominee in New York City.

Yet the proceedings on Tuesday nevertheless appeared to be moving faster than expected. And before the court adjourned Tuesday afternoon, Merchan swore in another panel of 96 prospective jurors to continue the process. That group will return to court Thursday morning.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accuses Trump of trying to influence the 2016 election by buying the silence of Daniels, who says she had a one-time sexual tryst with Trump in July 2006. Trump has denied having sex with Daniels at that time, which was four months after his wife Melania Trump gave birth to his youngest son, Barron Trump.

Just before entering the courtroom Tuesday, Trump defended the payments he made to Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who helped coordinate the hush money scheme. Bragg accuses Trump of reimbursing Cohen in monthly installments that were falsely labeled as being for legal expenses rendered in 2017. 

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“I was paying a lawyer and marked it down as a legal expense. Some accountant, I didn’t know, marked it down as a legal expense, that’s exactly what it was,” Trump said. “And you get indicted over that?”

Trump also railed against Merchan, calling him a “Trump-hating judge” who “shouldn’t be on this case.”

His attorneys on Monday got chilly responses from Merchan when they asked to adjust the trial schedule so that Trump can attend other personal and legal matters.

Those events include a Supreme Court hearing on his request for presidential immunity in another criminal case, and Barron’s high school graduation.

Merchan did not reject those requests outright, but also did not immediately grant them.

The trial is set to last around six weeks, with proceedings taking place four days a week.

Trump is required to be in court throughout the trial, potentially interfering with his presidential campaign plans.

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