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Jury selection completed for Trump's New York criminal trial


Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court in New York, April 19, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump appears at Manhattan criminal court in New York, April 19, 2024.

Five more alternate jurors were selected Friday in the New York hush money trial of Donald Trump, with opening arguments likely to start Monday in the first criminal case ever brought against a former U.S. president.

Seven men and five women were seated on the jury Thursday to hear evidence in the case. The jury includes two lawyers, six people who are employed at businesses, two who work in the education field, a health care worker, and an engineer. None of them has been publicly identified.

Some of the jurors acknowledged to New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan and Trump's defense lawyers that in recent years they had expressed negative views about the 77-year-old former president, but all said they could put those views aside and judge the case fairly. Several said they barely follow the news of the day.

One alternate juror was also picked Thursday, with five more added on Friday after Merchan, prosecutors and Trump's lawyers questioned 22 possible jurors about their personal backgrounds and opinions about Trump — often negative posts on social media.

A couple of would-be jurors were emotionally overwhelmed as they answered 42 questions posed to all the people in the jury pool, telling Merchan the ordeal was harder than they expected it to be. He excused them from serving on the jury.

The former president sat quietly and listened as some prospective jurors stood near him and voiced unvarnished views of him.

One woman said her complaint was not about his policies but how his rhetoric gives people "permission to act on their negative impulse."

The six alternate jurors will hear testimony in the trial and be available to replace any jurors who are unable to see the trial through to a verdict. An alternate would only be involved in jury deliberations and help decide the verdict if the alternate replaces a regular juror in what could be a six-week trial.

The case broadly involves allegations that Trump, the 45th U.S. president, schemed just ahead of his 2016 successful White House campaign to hide hush money payments to two women to cover up their claims of alleged extramarital affairs with him.

Prosecutors contend that Trump was seeking to keep compromising information about his private life from voters, just before they cast ballots eight years ago.

Trump, who was president from 2017 to 2021 and is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in this year's November 5 election, has denied the affairs and all 34 felony counts in the indictment filed against him a year ago.

But if convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to four years.

Trump has often assailed Merchan in his social media posts and called the case "election interference" as he seeks to reclaim the presidency.

Prosecutors have contended that Trump several times has violated Merchan's gag order prohibiting him from disparaging key participants in the case, although the judge excluded himself from the edict.

Merchan has scheduled a hearing next week to listen to demands by prosecutors that Trump be held in contempt of court and fined. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

Eventually, Trump could take the witness stand to defend himself, depending on how he and his lawyers view the prosecutors' evidence.

Since Trump is required to be in court, the case almost certainly will limit his time on the campaign trail as he runs for the second straight election cycle against President Joe Biden, a Democrat. On an off day for the trial, Trump is headed to North Carolina for a rally on Saturday night.

Charges explained

Trump stands accused of hiding a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just ahead of the 2016 election to keep her from talking publicly about her claim she had a one-night tryst with him at a celebrity golf tournament a decade earlier. That was less than four months after Trump's wife, Melania, had given birth to Barron, the couple's son, who is now 18 years old.

In a second instance, the indictment alleges that a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, Karen McDougal, says she had a monthslong affair with Trump and was paid $150,000 by a tabloid publisher who bought the rights to her story and then, at Trump's urging, killed the article.

Trump has denied both affairs and all 34 charges he faces in the New York case, including that he directed his one-time political fixer, convicted perjurer Michael Cohen, to make the payment to Daniels and then reimbursed him during the first year of his presidency in 2017 — all the while labeling the monthly stipends to Cohen in Trump's business records as legal expenses.

Altering his company's ledgers would be a misdemeanor offense, but to convict Trump of a more serious felony, prosecutors will have to convince jurors he committed an underlying crime, such as trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by keeping information about the alleged affairs from voters.

It is not illegal to pay hush money, and Trump may claim the payments were made simply to avoid disclosure of personally compromising moments of his life, not to try to influence the 2016 election.

The 12-member jury will have to reach a unanimous decision of either a guilty verdict or acquittal. If the jurors fail to agree among themselves, there would be what is called a hung jury, leaving the prosecutors to decide whether to seek a new trial.

Each of the charges carries the possibility of a four-year prison term, although Trump is certain to appeal any guilty verdict and sentence.

The New York case is one of an unprecedented four criminal indictments Trump is facing encompassing 88 charges, all of which he has denied. The hush money trial, however, could be the only one that occurs before the November election.

Two of the other indictments — one state and one federal — accuse him of illegally trying to upend his 2020 loss, while the third alleges he illegally took hundreds of highly classified national security documents with him to his oceanside Florida estate when his presidential term ended, and then refused requests by investigators to return them.

No firm trial dates have been set in any of those three cases, and Trump has sought to push the start dates until after the election.

If he wins, he could seek to have the federal charges dismissed. In any event, if Trump assumes power again, he would not be tried during his presidency.