Trial judge warns Trump over intimidation, seven jurors picked

Trial judge warns Trump over intimidation, seven jurors picked
Trial judge warns Trump over intimidation, seven jurors picked

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former President Donald Trump returns to the courtroom on the second day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs after a recess at Manhattan criminal court on April 16, 2024 in New York. — AFP pic

NEW YORK, April 17 — The judge in Donald Trump’s historic criminal trial on Tuesday warned the Republican presidential hopeful against intimidating jurors as seven panellists were chosen with unexpected speed following questioning by both sides.

There had been speculation that jury selection could take weeks in such a high-profile and sensitive case — the first criminal trial of a former US president, who also is running to return to the White House this November.

But Judge Juan Merchan ended the session saying he was hopeful opening arguments could begin as early as Monday.

After a preliminary phase in which prospective jurors could opt out if they felt unable to be impartial or had extenuating circumstances, defence attorneys and prosecutors began questioning the candidates in depth.


Seven jurors had been accepted and sworn in in by the end of Tuesday. Beyond the 12 needed for the panel, six alternates will also be chosen.

For Trump to be convicted of his alleged fraud in a scheme to cover up an embarrassing alleged extramarital encounter with a porn star, the jury must render a unanimous verdict. Even one dissenting voice would see him walk free.

Merchan cautioned Trump at one point that his muttering was audible to one juror who faced scrutiny over social media posts.


“I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom,” Merchan said, requesting that defence lawyers speak to Trump.

Trump, 77, has been ordered by Merchan to be in court daily, putting a major hitch in his campaigning plans.

“I should be right now in Pennsylvania and Florida — in many other states, North Carolina, Georgia — campaigning,” Trump said in angry remarks outside the court. He called Merchan “Trump-hating.”

Meanwhile, Biden spent the day touting his economic policies in a visit to his birthplace in Scranton, Pennsylvania — a key swing state Biden narrowly carried in the 2020 election.

‘Fascinating and mysterious’

Merchan has warned Trump against repeating his frequent past attempts to turn hearings into impromptu campaign appearances with outbursts at witnesses and staff, as well as tirades on social media.

The judge has already scheduled a hearing next week to consider whether Trump should be held in contempt for violating a partial gag order restricting him from attacking individuals connected to the case.

“The attitude of the undecided voter to all this is uncertain, but possibly they will be dissuaded by it,” Columbia Law School professor John Coffee told AFP.

Illustrating the extraordinary tension, potential jurors have been told they will remain anonymous to the public throughout the proceedings. Merchan said this is to protect them from possible bribery or physical harm.

On Monday, more than half of the first batch of 96 candidates were excused after signalling they could not be impartial.

Then on Tuesday, prospective jurors were grilled on their media consumption, political donations and education.

A young Black woman in the pool of candidates said that, as a person of colour, she has friends with strong opinions on Trump.

“You can’t judge him because he speaks his mind,” said another.

A third possible juror said he found Trump “fascinating and mysterious,” prompting Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche to respond, “Umm, alright. Thank you.”

Trump appeared to eye those in the jury box as they each answered ‘yes’ to a prosecutor’s question about whether they would be able to return a guilty verdict.

Candidates were then asked individually about social media posts.

Trump faces three other criminal cases centered on his possession of top-secret documents after leaving office and his unprecedented attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

Those trials are arguably weightier in content, but Trump has succeeded in prompting continued delays, meaning they may not start before the November 5 election.

In New York, the Republican is accused of falsifying business records while covering up an alleged extramarital sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his first election campaign, in 2016, from last-minute upheaval.

If convicted, Trump would potentially face prison, but legal observers say fines would be more likely. — AFP

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