Trump hush money jury selection resumes as lawyers probe for bias

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 5:08 AM

By Jack Queen and Luc Cohen

(Reuters) – Donald Trump is due in Manhattan court on Thursday as lawyers continue searching for jurors to decide the former U.S. president’s fate in a historic criminal trial just months before his upcoming rematch with President Joe Biden.

Seven jurors have already been selected after two days of grilling by prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers, who are tasked with finding New Yorkers who can be fair to the Republican presidential candidate in heavily Democratic Manhattan, where the businessman-turned-politician made his name as a real estate tycoon decades ago.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts for allegedly falsifying records to cover up hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The hush money trial kicked off on Monday. Jurors selected so far include a nurse, a software engineer and two corporate lawyers. The judge has said the identities of the 12 jurors and six alternates will remain anonymous except to Trump, his lawyers and prosecutors.

Opening arguments are expected to take place on Monday.

A guilty verdict would not bar Trump from office, but half of independent voters and one in four Republicans say they would not vote for him if he were convicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that closed on April 8.

The same poll found that 64% of registered voters thought the hush money charges were at least “somewhat serious.”

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks, and Trump could potentially be convicted and sentenced before the election.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in three other criminal cases, but the New York trial could be the only one he faces before the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

In the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump is accused of illegally covering up a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels to keep her quiet about a tryst she said she had with him in 2006.

Trump denies having an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Over two days of questioning on Monday and Tuesday, lawyers probed a group of nearly 100 randomly selected New Yorkers for signs of bias as Trump looked on from the defendant’s table.

At least 50 jury candidates were immediately dismissed after saying they could not be impartial toward Trump, underscoring the challenge lawyers face in picking a jury for the first-ever trial of a former U.S. president.

Trump occasionally followed along as jury candidates gave responses to a 42-point list of initial questions.

On Tuesday, he was seen uttering to his lawyer and gesturing toward a jury candidate after she was called in for additional questioning, prompting the judge overseeing the case to warn Trump against intimidating potential jurors.

The judge, Justice Juan Merchan, has already imposed a gag order on Trump that bars him from talking publicly about certain people involved in the case and their families in ways that are meant to interfere with the case.

Prosecutors on Monday said Trump had already violated the order with posts on his Truth Social platform about Daniels and Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer who is set to be a star prosecution witness.

Merchan scheduled an April 23 hearing to rule on prosecutors’ request for a $1,000 fine for each of the three posts they identified.

Trump has also been charged in Georgia and Washington, D.C., for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and in Florida over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office.

Those cases do not yet have trial dates.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Lisa Shumaker)