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Lawyers aim to wrap up jury selection in Trump criminal trial

In World
April 19, 2024

By Luc Cohen, Jack Queen and Andy Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lawyers in Donald Trump‘s criminal trial are expected on Friday to wrap up the painstaking process of selecting a jury that will for the first time in U.S. history determine whether a former president is guilty of breaking the law.

With the 12-member jury already chosen, prosecutors and defense lawyers need to select six alternates for the trial, which is expected to run through May. Opening statements could start on Monday.

Two jurors have already been removed from the case. On Thursday, Justice Juan Merchan dismissed one juror who said she felt intimidated after friends and relatives figured out she had been chosen for the trial. Another was dismissed after prosecutors questioned whether he had been truthful about prior run-ins with the law.

Jury selection is often a contentious process, as lawyers on either side jockey to assemble a panel they hope will be most sympathetic to their interests.

But it has proven especially challenging in this case, which involves a controversial former president who is accused of covering up a hush-money payment to a porn star shortly before he was elected in 2016. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

It is one of four criminal cases Trump faces but the only one certain to go to trial ahead of the Nov. 5 election, when the Republican politician aims to again take on Democratic President Joe Biden. A conviction would not bar him from office.

Roughly half of the more than 200 potential jurors who were screened said they would not be able to impartially assess Trump’s guilt or innocence. All were drawn from Manhattan, a heavily Democratic city that was once Trump’s hometown.

Trump has said all four criminal cases are an effort by Biden allies to undercut his campaign. His criticism of witnesses, prosecutors, the judge and their relatives in this case and others has also sparked concerns about harassment, prompting Merchan to impose a partial gag order.

Trump has tested the limits of that gag order, posting on Wednesday that undercover liberal activists had been lying to get on the jury. Prosecutors have asked Merchan to penalize him.

Merchan has taken steps to shield jurors from harassment, saying they will remain anonymous except to Trump, his lawyers, and prosecutors. On Thursday, he said he would prohibit news outlets from reporting on aspects of potential jurors’ employment.

In this case, Trump is accused of covering up a $130,000 payment his former lawyer Michael Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she says they had a decade earlier.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and denies any such encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in his other three criminal cases as well. Two accuse him of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden, while another accuses him of mishandling classified information after he left office.

(Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Daniel Wallis)

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