Trump’s third day on criminal trial: Dozen jurors picked, two excused and defence kept in the dark over witnesses

Jury selection nears completion but former president complains case is ‘a mess’, he’s too cold and being prevented from attending important campaign events in swing states

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 19 April 2024 15:49 BST
Trump appears in court for day three of New York hush money trial

Jury selection continued on the eventful third day of Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial in New York, with a full complement of 12 jurors ultimately picked, plus one alternate.

Earlier in the day, however, Judge Juan Merchan’s hopes of getting around to opening statements on Monday looked highly unlikely to be realised, when two of the seven jurors chosen on Tuesday had to be excused over concerns about their anonymity being compromised and their impartiality.

Barring further unforeseen drama, the process is now expected to be wrapped up on Friday with the selection of five more alternates to complete the substitute’s bench.

Mr Trump, 77, is facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged bid to cover up a $130,000 hush money payment made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, 45, in 2016 to buy her silence over a sexual encounter she claims they had a decade earlier.

Mr Trump denies the affair and all of the charges brought against him by Alvin Bragg, Manhattan district attorney.

Here are the key takeaways from day three of The People v Donald Trump.

‘We have our jury’

The panel of 12 Manhattan residents who will ultimately decide the fate of the former president has now been seated.

After three days of jury selection, either side of a recess on Wednesday, in which hundreds of New Yorkers were summoned to the Manhattan Criminal Court, sworn in and asked personal questions, the majority of the jury was chosen – a panel of five women and seven men.

One alternative has also been seated, with five more needed to complete the set of 18 on Friday.

Two of Tuesday’s jurors excused

Two jurors who were sworn in earlier this week ended up excused from the case on Thursday as the court continues to grapple with the difficulty of finding impartial New Yorkers, many of whom are well acquainted with Mr Trump’s persona and track record after his decades spent in the Big Apple media spotlight.

Court proceedings got off to a rocky start on Thursday morning, with Judge Merchan’s optimism about concluding the process before the working week’s end looking unlikely to be rewarded.

First, Juror No 2 raised concerns that personal details disclosed in her jury questionnaire could be used to identify her – and that her concerns might affect her ability to remain impartial.

An oncology nurse by profession, the juror told Judge Merchan that her friends, family and colleagues had sent her news articles in recent days that included details about her life, prompting them to ask if she was one of the jurors taking part, having guessed the truth.

“I don’t believe at this point I can be fair and unbiased,” she said.

Donald Trump sits beside his lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove during jury selection on Thursday
Donald Trump sits beside his lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove during jury selection on Thursday (Reuters)

Several questions on the jury questionnaire ask prospective panellists about their jobs, including the names of their current and former employers. Additionally, some news outlets reported on the physical appearance of jurors or gave details about their accents.

As soon as the juror left the courtroom, Judge Merchan asked the media to cease reporting specific details about jurors that could allow them to be identified by their peers. This included redacting information about their current or past employers.

Judge Merchan told the press that “it kind of defeats the purpose” of having an anonymous jury when reporters blow their cover and asked that more “common sense” be applied in the future.

Later, Juror No 4 showed up late to court and Manhattan prosecutors raised concerns about the truthfulness of his answers during questioning earlier this week.

The Manhattan DA’s office said they had found a record of a man with the same name who was arrested for tearing down political posters in the 1990s, which ultimately led to his dismissal after a private conversation with the justice.

With both excused by Judge Merchan, the panel fell back down to five and the whole affair looked dicey until matters picked up in the afternoon, particularly after the defence had exhausted the 10 strikes to which it is entitled to for raising objections based on suspicions of bias.

Prosecution to keep defence in dark about witnesses

Mr Trump is already under a strict gag order imposed by the judge in response to his repeated social media attacks on the trial and its key participants, from likely witnesses Michael Cohen and Ms Daniels to Mr Bragg and Judge Merchan themselves and even the justice’s daughter.

And, on Thursday, the prosecution alleged seven further counts of potential violations of that order since Monday on Mr Trump’s part, pointing to a number of his social media posts and seeking fines, including one in which the defendant referred to Cohen, his former personal attorney, as “a serial perjurer” and another in which he posted a clip of Fox News host Jesse Watters warning of “undercover liberal activists” among the Manhattan jury pool.

“It’s ridiculous and it has to stop,” prosecutor Chris Conroy said, according to CNN, as his side awaits a hearing on Tuesday about whether or not Mr Trump should be held in contempt of court over the alleged violations.

Judge Juan Merchan presiding over day three of Trump’s hush money trial
Judge Juan Merchan presiding over day three of Trump’s hush money trial (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Trump lawyer Emil Bove contended that the posts simply highlight “ambiguities” within the makeup of the trial.

Just before the close of play, Mr Trump’s defence team suffered a further setback when it was informed it would not be told in advance who the prosecution’s witnesses will be in order to prevent their client posting about them on Truth Social, a point that led to a dispute between Judge Merchan and Trump attorney Todd Blanche and left Mr Trump tutting in his seat.

When Mr Blanche asked who the first three witnesses would be, Manhattan assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass answered flatly: “We’re not telling him who the witnesses are.”

When Mr Blanche protested and promised Mr Trump would refrain from posting about them, Judge Merchan answered him by saying: “I don’t think you can make that representation.”

Trump gripes about ‘freezing’ courtroom

Leaving court at the end of the day, Mr Trump immediately launched into his usual rhetoric – baselessly calling the case a “witch hunt”, labelling President Joe Biden a “crook” for bringing the criminal charges levelled against him (he didn’t) and falsely claiming that Mr Bragg is the real culprit falsifying fraudulent documents.

He griped that he should be out campaigning in important swing states like Georgia, New Hampshire and North Carolina as part of his 2024 campaign for the White House, rather than cooped up in court.

“The whole thing is a mess,” he huffed.

Mr Trump also complained that the courtroom was “freezing”, which he was not the only person in attendance to note on Thursday.

“I want to apologise that it’s chilly in here,” Judge Merchan said.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to control the temperature, but it’s one extreme or the other.”

The defendant is required to attend every day of his criminal trial per New York criminal trial procedures and has already complained, prematurely, about being prevented from visiting the Supreme Court to hear arguments about his “presidential immunity” defence against prosecution on 25 April and attending his teenage son’s high school graduation ceremony in Florida later this month.

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