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18 April 2024

Jury selection enters pivotal stretch as Trump’s hush money trial resumes

18 April 2024

Jury selection in Donald Trump ’s hush money case encountered new setbacks Thursday as a previously seated juror was excused after backtracking on whether she felt she could be impartial and fair. The status of a second sworn-in juror was also in limbo over concerns that some of his previous answers to questions were not accurate.

Lawyers still need to pick 12 more jurors to serve on the panel that will decide the first-ever criminal case against a former US president.

Seven jurors were seated on Tuesday after being grilled for hours by lawyers on everything from their hobbies to social media posts to their opinion of the presumptive Republican nominee in this year’s closely contested presidential race.

Prosecutors on Thursday also asked Judge Juan M Merchan to sanction Mr Trump over seven more social media posts they say violate a gag order that bans Mr Trump from attacking witnesses.

The prosecution on Monday sought a 3,000 dollar (£2,600) fine against Mr Trump over three Truth Social posts.

More than half the members of a group of 96 prospective jurors brought into the courtroom were dismissed on Thursday, most after saying they doubted their ability to be fair and impartial.

Earlier, one of the seven jurors who had been picked, an oncology nurse, said upon further consideration that she was no longer confident she could be impartial.

Although the jurors’ names are being kept confidential, the woman said her family members and friends questioned her about being a juror.

She was then excused, leaving six on the panel so far, including a software engineer, an information technology professional, a sales professional, an English teacher and two lawyers.

After dismissing the juror, Judge Juan Merchan ordered journalists in court not to report prospective jurors’ answers to questions about their current and former employers.

A second juror was also in limbo on Thursday over concerns that some of his answers in court may not have been accurate.Prosecutors found an article from the 1990s about a man with the same name as the juror being arrested for tearing down political advertisements. The posters were on the political right, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said.

Mr Steinglass also disclosed that a relative of the man may have been involved in a non-prosecution agreement in the 1990s with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting Mr Trump’s case.

Judge Merchan had instructed the man to come to court on Thursday morning to answer questions and verify whether the people involved were him or his relative.

Mr Merchan noted the juror’s apparent “reluctance to come in” and asked both sides if they’d consent to having him removed without further inquiry.

Mr Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche declined, saying he wanted to first hear what the man had to say.

Under questioning earlier this week, the man had said he hadn’t been convicted of a crime.

Twelve more people must still be sworn in, with the judge saying he anticipated opening statements in the landmark case to be given as early as next week.

After dismissing the juror, Judge Juan Merchan ordered journalists in court not to report prospective jurors’ answers to questions about their current and former employers.

He said that “as evidenced by what’s happened already, it’s become a problem.” The answers also will be redacted from court transcripts.

Dozens of prospective jurors were dismissed both days after saying they could not be impartial or had other commitments that would conflict with the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he feared could damage his 2016 campaign.

The allegations focus on payoffs to two women, pornography actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Mr Trump years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Mr Trump had out of wedlock.

Mr Trump says none of these supposed sexual encounters occurred.

The case is the first of Mr Trump’s four indictments to reach trial.

The seating of the Manhattan jury will be a seminal moment in the case, setting the stage for a trial that will place the former president’s legal jeopardy at the heart of the campaign against Democrat Joe Biden and feature potentially unflattering testimony about Mr Trump’s private life in the years before he became president.

The process of picking a jury is a critical phase of any criminal trial but especially so when the defendant is a former president and the presumptive Republican nominee.

Prosecutors have also asked for the former president to be held in contempt and fined because of seven social media posts that they say violated a judge’s gag order barring him from attacking witnesses.

The social media posts at issue were made by Mr Trump after Monday when prosecutors first sought a 3,000 dollar (£2,400) fine for Mr Trump for three Truth Social posts they said violated the order.

Prosecutor Christopher Conroy said several of the posts involved an article that referred to Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen as a “serial perjurer”, and one from Wednesday that repeated a claim by a Fox News host that liberal activists were lying to get on the jury.

Mr Trump’s lawyer Emil Bove said Mr Cohen “has been attacking President Trump in public statements,” and Mr Trump was just replying.

The judge had already scheduled a hearing for next week on the prosecution’s request for contempt sanctions over Mr Trump’s posts.

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