Potential jurors share strong feelings about Trump ahead of trial over Michael Cohen’s legal fees

Potential jurors in Michael Cohen’s civil lawsuit against the Trump Organization acknowledged strong feelings about former President Donald Trump and his family but also said their personal views wouldn’t prevent them from fairly evaluating the evidence

Jake Offenhartz
Tuesday 18 July 2023 12:42 BST
Michael Cohen once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump
Michael Cohen once said he would take a bullet for Donald Trump (Reuters)

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Louise Thomas

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Jury selection began Monday in Michael Cohen’s civil lawsuit against the Trump Organization, in which the former president's personal attorney and fixer claims he is owed more than $1m.

Roughly three dozen prospective jurors sat inside a Manhattan courtroom, largely silent as Judge Joel Cohen outlined the coming trial dates and posed a series of questions meant to weed out candidates with potential conflicts of interest.

Then the judge asked the assembled group, all New Yorkers, whether they had strong opinions about former President Donald Trump or his family members. A few people snickered. More than half raised their hands.

“Did we get everyone?” Judge Cohen asked as he tallied the responses. “I feel like an auctioneer here.”

The jury selection process comes one week before scheduled opening statements in Cohen’s lawsuit, initially filed in 2019. In it, Cohen accused the Trump Organization of reneging on an agreement to cover his legal costs, leaving him with $1.3m in unpaid bills.

Cohen served for years as Mr Trump’s personal attorney and fixer, once boasting of his loyalty. But Cohen split with Mr Trump in 2018 after the FBI raided his home and office while investigating him for multiple crimes that led him to plead guilty to multiple charges that year.

The former president is not a witness in the trial, the judge told the jury pool. But his son, Donald Trump Jr., may be called to testify.

Separately, Cohen is expected to be a key witness for Manhattan prosecutors in their criminal case against Mr Trump over allegations the former president tried to cover up past extramarital affairs during his first White House campaign. That criminal case hinges on charges that Mr Trump made large payments to Cohen to reimburse him for his work buying the silence of people with potentially embarrassing stories about infidelity.

Mr Trump has denied having any extramarital affairs with the women involved.

Asked Monday about Cohen's civil lawsuit, most prospective jurors said they had strong feelings about the president and his family but also said their personal views wouldn’t prevent them from fairly evaluating the evidence.

Under state court rules, jurors in both cases must live in Manhattan, a liberal enclave that voted against Mr Trump by 70 points in the previous election.

Cohen says the Trump Organization, where he previously served as vice president, eventually stopped paying for his legal defense. The Trump Organization has disputed that, arguing that Cohen’s involvement in the federal investigation wasn’t an outgrowth of his former job but rather a personal effort to reduce his own criminal legal exposure as an indictment loomed.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to several charges, admitting that he lied to Congress, violated campaign finance laws, lied to banks and evaded income taxes by failing to report over $4m in income. He was sentenced to three years in prison, although he served nearly two-thirds of it at home, after the COVID-19 outbreak overwhelmed the nation’s prisons.

Cohen did not attend the jury selection on Monday and did not immediately return a request for comment.

Attorneys for the Trump Organization, Kiley, Kiley & Kiley, also did not respond to requests for comment.

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