Judge Dismisses Most Prospective Jurors on First Day of Trump’s Hush Money Trial

April 15, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
Judge Dismisses Most Prospective Jurors on First Day of Trump’s Hush Money Trial
Former President Donald Trump speaks as he arrives at Manhattan criminal court with his legal team ahead of the start of jury selection in New York, Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

NEW YORK — Dozens of prospective jurors were dismissed Monday on the first day of jury selection for the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump in New York City.

He faces felony charges for allegedly paying $130,000 in 2016 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to cover up an affair he had with her.

It’s the first time in history a former U.S. president has been tried on criminal charges.

After a judge swore in 96 potential jurors, Trump at times closed his eyes appearing to rest or doze off but other times looked at the people who will pass judgment on him, eliciting nervous responses from some of them.

By mid-afternoon, more than 50 of them had been dismissed. Many admitted they would have difficulty being impartial during the trial. Others were dismissed after questions and objections from attorneys.

Jury selection is expected to take about two weeks, followed by a six- to eight-week trial. Five hundred people have been selected as prospective jurors.

Trump pleaded not guilty after he was indicted last year on 34 criminal counts accusing him of falsifying business records to hide the hush money payments while he concurrently ran a successful presidential campaign.

The criminal charges in New York, along with others in Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., appear to be hurting his current presidential campaign. Popular opinion polls in the past week show he has lost most of his lead on President Joe Biden.

He faces a total of 88 criminal counts.

Trump appeared at the courthouse in the morning showing the same kind of defiance that compelled a judge to impose a gag order on him previously.

He told reporters the trial is a “political persecution like never before” and that “it’s an assault on America.”

In an apparent jab at Biden, he added, “It’s an attack on a political opponent, that’s all it is.”

After the proceedings started, Judge Juan Merchan asked Trump whether he understood that failing to attend the trial or possible sentencing could incur additional penalties for him.

Trump nodded his head and said after each question, “Yes” or “I do.”

Before potential jurors were questioned, the judge set an April 23 date for a hearing on whether Trump should be fined $1,000 for each of three of his social media posts that criticized prosecutors. They said it violated the gag order against him.

The judge also gave the defense lawyers 24 hours to submit to the court all exhibits they plan to use during the trial.

“You have 24 hours,” Merchan said. “Anything you don’t produce within 24 hours will be precluded.”

Questions the judge and attorneys asked the prospective jurors included whether they have affiliations with groups like the Proud Boys, QAnon and Antifa; whether they attended a Trump rally or an anti-Trump event; whether they have opinions on whether a former president can be charged in state court and whether they have views on how Trump is being treated in this case.

Trump is not expected to testify during the trial.

Overshadowing the proceedings is the possibility the U.S. Supreme Court could declare Trump immune from prosecution as a president.

Trump’s defense team appealed to the Supreme Court last month asking that Trump be granted absolute immunity from prosecution. Otherwise, there is a risk of a precedent that might lead to political reprisals against presidents for their actions in office, Trump’s attorneys argued in legal briefs.

A hearing before the Supreme Court on the immunity question is scheduled for April 25.

A White House press spokeswoman declined to comment Monday on the trial.

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