7 Jurors Selected in Trump’s Hush-Money Criminal Trial – US 247 News


The daunting work of selecting a jury for the first criminal trial of a former American president rapidly gained momentum on Tuesday as seven New Yorkers were chosen to sit in judgment of Donald J. Trump, accelerating a crucial phase of the case that many had expected to be a slog.

The judge overseeing the case said that if jurors continued to be seated at this pace, opening arguments would most likely begin Monday.

The first seven members of the panel that will decide whether Mr. Trump falsified records to cover up a sex scandal involving a porn star were picked in short order after the lunch break. The lawyers quizzed them on their politics, views about the former president and ability to remain impartial in a case that could offend their sensibilities.

And Mr. Trump’s lawyers examined their digital footprints, bringing several jurors into the courtroom one by one to ask them about past social media posts that seemed as if they could betray a negative opinion of the former president.

The wrangling underscored the importance and challenge of picking a jury in a city where the defendant is deeply unpopular — and not just any defendant, but the presumptive Republican nominee for president. Jury selection is pivotal: The outcome of the case could depend on who ultimately serves on the panel, which will include 12 jurors and most likely six alternates.

The two sides reached agreement on four men and three women whose lives will forever be shaped by the landmark trial, and who in turn may shape American political history. They include a man originally from Ireland who will serve as foreman, an oncology nurse, a grandfather originally from Puerto Rico, a middle-school teacher from Harlem, two lawyers and a software engineer for Disney.

While of different ages and ethnicities, the chosen seven had one thing in common: They vowed to give Mr. Trump a fair shake.

And although prosecutors might have the upper hand in Manhattan, one of the nation’s most Democratic counties, there were glimmers of hope for Mr. Trump. Just one stubborn juror can torpedo a case and hang a jury, an outcome that would be a victory for Mr. Trump.

The Harlem teacher, a young Black woman who hails from a family of police officers, said she appreciated Mr. Trump’s bombastic style and referred to him as “President Trump,” a title of respect and one his own lawyers use in court.

“President Trump speaks his mind, and I’d rather that than someone who’s in office who you don’t know what they’re thinking,” she said.

Other potential jurors presented red flags for the former president. Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, quickly sought the dismissal of several for their online activity. One woman, he noted, had heralded a court decision overturning a travel ban Mr. Trump enacted as president and had at one point written “Get him out, and lock him up.” The jury was excused.

When another potential juror was being interviewed about his old Facebook posts, Mr. Trump began to mutter and gesture, drawing a rebuke from the judge, Juan M. Merchan.

“I won’t tolerate that,” the judge said, raising his voice once the potential jury had left the room. “I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom.”

Leaving court, Mr. Trump criticized Justice Merchan, saying he was “rushing the trial.” But later, he withheld judgment of the jurors themselves, remarking, “We’ll see what happens.”

Mr. Trump, who was charged by the Manhattan district attorney’s office with 34 criminal counts and may take the witness stand in his own defense, has denied all wrongdoing. But during the 2016 presidential campaign, prosecutors say, Mr. Trump directed his fixer, Michael D. Cohen, to pay hush money to the porn star, Stormy Daniels. And while serving as president, he had his company falsify records to hide his reimbursement of Mr. Cohen, according to the charges.

Prosecutors say it was a pattern for Mr. Trump: Faced with stories that could have doomed his campaign, he concealed them to influence the election. If the jury convicts him, he faces up to four years behind bars.

Over much of his life, Mr. Trump has measured the world in terms of whether it is treating him “unfairly.” Such grievance was at the heart of his appeal to voters who propelled his political rise and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election that he lost.

Now, the question of fairness — how people view Mr. Trump’s treatment by prosecutors, and whether they can judge him impartially — is at the heart of the jury selection.

The pool of possible jurors came from an initial group of 96, more than half of whom were dismissed immediately Monday after indicating that they could not fairly reach a decision. Others who returned on Tuesday had changed their minds after taking a night to think about it. “I don’t think I can be as impartial and unbiased as I hoped I could be,” one admitted. Another claimed to have recognized an “unconscious bias” against the former president.

Tuesday’s batch of potential jurors mirrored their city of 8.4 million, the most populous in the nation: They were diverse, opinionated, hard to pigeonhole. There was an Upper East Side investment banker, a high school teacher who likes to sew, a Mexico-born man who listens to podcasts about gay issues, and a bookseller who believes “no one is above the law.”

They were there involuntarily, because jury duty is an inescapable responsibility of citizenship. It can be tedious, exhausting or even exhilarating to judge a fellow American, someone a juror has never met or thought of before a trial conventions.

But everyone knows Donald Trump, the former reality television star turned polarizing president, who is once again running for that office. And in this case, the first of Mr. Trump’s four indictments to move to trial, the possible jurors are carrying a burden of history that appeared to agonize some of them.

Some acknowledged they could not be fair. The investment banker said he was just too busy to give up the next two months of his life.

Others embraced the moment, and even sought to persuade both the defense and prosecution of their bona fides.

A woman from the Upper West Side described herself as “a public servant,” adding that she had “built my entire career on trying to serve the city that I live in.” Jury duty, she proudly declared, was an extension of that, “of what’s required of me as a citizen.” She was excused nonetheless.

Mr. Blanche questioned the bookseller who argued that no one is above the law, trying to elicit his views on the former president. But the bookseller rebuffed him, saying that his opinion of him “has absolutely no bearing on the case.” He finally acknowledged he was a Democrat — like an overwhelming majority of Manhattan residents — but did not budge further.

He was dismissed after some anti-Trump social media posts came to light.

A white-haired woman became animated when asked whether she would hold it against Mr. Trump if he did not testify.

“That’s your right. You can’t presume that makes him guilty,” she said, waving her hands for emphasis as she uttered the words every defense lawyer wants to hear. “The prosecutor’s the one who has to present those facts and prove them,” she added.

Mr. Blanche replied, “I don’t think I could have said it better myself,” although the woman later revealed that “politically, we have big disagreements, your client and myself,” and she was excused.

There were moments of levity. One woman, answering a question about whether she knew anyone in the legal field, said, “I dated a lawyer for a while.” She paused. “It ended fine.”

Mr. Trump did not laugh, but he did smirk when a man revealed he was once an alternate juror in a case involving the former president and the media mogul Merv Griffin, who in the late 1980s were in a dispute about control of a casino company .

This prospective juror, who was eventually dismissed, exemplified the uniquely New York nature of the proceeding: a former photographer for the city jails, he suggested that he had known some of the Central Park Five, teenagers convicted and later exonerated in the rape of a woman in Central Park. Mr. Trump took out a newspaper ad soon after their arrests calling for them to face the death penalty.

While the former president did not visibly react to the mention of that episode, he took pleasure in hearing from a prospective jury who had enjoyed his celebrity turn on reality television. “I was a big fan of ‘The Apprentice’ when I was in middle school,” the man said, drawing a smile from Mr. Trump.

Other potential jurors told stories about how crime had affected their families, including a man whose daughter was the victim of a violent sexual assault. He said he had read “Trump: The Art of the Deal” and two other books by the former president, eliciting an approving nod from the author. The prosecution had him excused.

The man born in Mexico, who was ultimately excused, said he had become a US citizen in the first year of Mr. Trump’s presidency. When asked whether anything about that experience would prejudice his role as a juror, he replied, “Feelings are not facts,” adding, “I’m very grateful to be an American.”

Although Mr. Trump’s trial absorbed much of the courthouse’s energy, plenty of people were summoned to serve on juries in other cases.

Mark DeMuro, a 71-year-old artist, said he was thankful he would not have to sit in judgment of Mr. Trump, whom he called “a loathsome character.”

“I could never serve on that jury; I would never risk the trial,” Mr. DeMuro said, adding, “I pray for the people who get selected.”

, Michael Gold and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.