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No Jurors Picked Yet in Trump Trial    04/16 06:08

   

   NEW YORK (AP) -- The historic hush money trial of Donald Trump got underway 
Monday with the arduous process of selecting a jury to hear the case charging 
the former president with falsifying business records in order to stifle 
stories about his sex life.

   The day ended without any jurors being chosen. The selection process was 
scheduled to resume Tuesday.

   The first criminal trial of any former U.S. president began as Trump vies to 
reclaim the White House, creating a remarkable split-screen spectacle of the 
presumptive Republican nominee spending his days as a criminal defendant while 
simultaneously campaigning for office. He's blended those roles over the last 
year by presenting himself to supporters, on the campaign trail and on social 
media, as a target of politically motivated prosecutions designed to derail his 
candidacy.

   "It's a scam. It's a political witch hunt. It continues, and it continues 
forever," Trump said after exiting the courtroom, where he sat at the defense 
table with his lawyers.

   After a norm-shattering presidency shadowed by years of investigations, the 
trial amounts to a reckoning for Trump, who faces four indictments charging him 
with crimes ranging from hoarding classified documents to plotting to overturn 
an election. Yet the political stakes are less clear because a conviction would 
not preclude him from becoming president and because the allegations in this 
case date back years and are seen as less grievous than the conduct behind the 
three other indictments.

   The day began with pretrial arguments -- including over a potential fine for 
Trump -- before moving in the afternoon into jury selection, where the parties 
will decide who might be picked to determine the legal fate of the former, and 
potentially future, American president.

   After the first members of the jury pool, 96 in all, were summoned into the 
courtroom, Trump craned his neck to look back at them, whispering to his lawyer 
as they entered the jury box.

   "You are about to participate in a trial by jury. The system of trial by 
jury is one of the cornerstones of our judicial system," Judge Juan Merchan 
told the jurors. "The name of this case is the People of the State of New York 
vs. Donald Trump."

   Trump's notoriety would make the process of picking 12 jurors and six 
alternates a near-herculean task in any year, but it's likely to be especially 
challenging now, unfolding in a closely contested presidential election in the 
heavily Democratic city where Trump grew up became a celebrity decades before 
winning the White House.

   Underscoring the difficulty, only about a third of the 96 people in the 
first panel of potential jurors remained after the judge excused some members. 
More than half the group was excused after telling the judge they could not be 
fair and impartial. At least nine more were excused after raising their hands 
when Merchan asked if they could not serve for any other reason.

   A female juror was excused after saying she had strong opinions about Trump. 
Earlier in the questionnaire, the woman, a Harlem resident, indicated she could 
be neutral in deciding the case. But when asked whether she had strong opinions 
about the former president, the woman answered matter-of-factly, "Yes."

   When Merchan asked her to repeat the response, she replied, "Yeah, I said 
yes." She was dismissed.

   Merchan has written that the key is "whether the prospective juror can 
assure us that they will set aside any personal feelings or biases and render a 
decision that is based on the evidence and the law."

   No matter the outcome, Trump is determined to benefit from the proceedings, 
casting the case, and his indictments elsewhere, as a broad "weaponization of 
law enforcement" by Democratic prosecutors and officials. He maintains they are 
orchestrating sham charges in hopes of impeding his presidential run.

   He's lambasted judges and prosecutors for years, a pattern of attacks that 
continued Monday as he entered court after calling the case an "assault on 
America."

   "This is political persecution. This is a persecution like never before," he 
said.

   The judge denied a defense request to recuse himself from the case after 
Trump's lawyers claimed he had a conflict of interest. He also said prosecutors 
could not play for the jury the 2005 "Access Hollywood" recording in which 
Trump was captured discussing grabbing women sexually without their permission. 
However, prosecutors will be allowed to question witnesses about the recording, 
which became public in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.

   Prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney's office also asked Merchan 
to fine Trump $3,000 over social media posts they said violated the judge's gag 
order limiting what he can say publicly about witnesses. Last week, he used his 
Truth Social platform to call his former lawyer Michael Cohen and the adult 
film actor Stormy Daniels "two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and 
misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!"

   Trump lawyer Todd Blanche maintained Trump was simply responding to the 
witnesses' statements.

   "It's not as if President Trump is going out and targeting individuals. He 
is responding to salacious, repeated vehement attacks by these witnesses," 
Blanche said.

   Merchan setting a hearing for next week on the request.

   Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business 
records. Prosecutors say the alleged fraud was part of an effort to keep 
salacious -- and, Trump says, bogus -- stories about his sex life from emerging 
during his 2016 campaign.

   The charges center on payments Trump's company made to Cohen to reimburse 
him for $130,000 he paid to keep Daniels from going public, a month before the 
election, with her claims of a sexual encounter with the married mogul a decade 
earlier.

   Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen were falsely logged as legal fees in 
order to cloak their actual purpose. Trump's lawyers say the disbursements 
indeed were legal expenses, not a cover-up.

   After decades of fielding and initiating lawsuits, the 
businessman-turned-politician now faces a trial that could result in up to four 
years in prison if he's convicted, though a no-jail sentence also would be 
possible.

   Trump's attorneys lost a bid to get the hush money case dismissed and 
repeatedly sought to delay it, prompting a flurry of last-minute appeals court 
hearings last week.

   Among other things, Trump's lawyers maintain that the jury pool in 
overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan has been tainted by negative publicity 
about Trump and that the case should be moved elsewhere.

   An appeals judge turned down an emergency request to delay the trial while 
the change-of-venue request goes to a group of appellate judges, who are set to 
consider it in the coming weeks.

   Manhattan prosecutors have countered that a lot of the publicity stems from 
Trump's own comments and that questioning will tease out whether prospective 
jurors can put aside any preconceptions they may have. There's no reason, 
prosecutors said, to think that 12 fair and impartial people can't be found 
amid Manhattan's roughly 1.4 million adult residents.

   The prospective jurors will be known only by number, as the judge has 
ordered that their names be kept secret from everyone except prosecutors, Trump 
and their legal teams.

   They're being asked 42 questions about their backgrounds, hobbies and news 
habits, whether they hold strong beliefs about Trump that would prevent them 
from being impartial and about attendance at Trump or anti-Trump rallies.

   Based on the answers, the attorneys can ask a judge to eliminate people "for 
cause" if they meet certain criteria for being unable to serve or can't be 
unbiased. The lawyers also can use "peremptory challenges" to nix 10 potential 
jurors and two prospective alternates without giving a reason.

 
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