Home Hollywood Jury Selection Starts In Donald Trump’s Hush Money Case; Judge Names Potential Witnesses

Jury Selection Starts In Donald Trump’s Hush Money Case; Judge Names Potential Witnesses

Jury Selection Starts In Donald Trump’s Hush Money Case; Judge Names Potential Witnesses


UPDATE: After spending the morning going through a series of motions, Judge Juan Merchan summoned the first batch of 96 potential jurors.

More than half were let go after they indicated that they would be unable to be fair an impartial, one of the first questions being asked of them during the process.

Merchan also read out a list of more than 30 potential witnesses, but cautioned that not all would necessarily be called. The list included three of the president’s children Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump; son-in-law Jared Kushner; his wife Melania; former porn actress Stormy Daniels; his former attorney Michael Cohen; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; former aide Hope Hicks; former American Media executives David Pecker and Dylan Howard; former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; former senior adviser Steve Bannon; Trump Organization executive Deborah Tarasoff; and former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.

PREVIOUSLY: Judge Juan Merchan has scheduled a hearing for April 23 on whether Donald Trump should be held in contempt for violations of a gag order.

Prosecutors are asking the judge to fine Trump $3,000 for social media posts attacking two potential witnesses, Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

During the lunch break, Trump posted a video of Laura Loomer, leading a protest outside the courthouse, in which she referenced the judge’s wife. The gag order restricts Trump from commenting on Merchan’s family members.

Meanwhile, The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, who is in the courtroom, reported that Trump “appeared to nod off a few times, his mouth going slack and his head drooping onto his chest.”

PREVIOUSLY: Among the correspondents roving the park across from the New York criminal courthouse: Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show, spotted interviewing protesters. 

The small band of Trump supporters present included MAGA-world regulars with followings online and in the conservative news sphere. John Tabacco, a Staten Island resident who hosts a weekly talk show, Wise Guys, on Newsmax TV, fielded questions from reporters on Monday morning while holding a billboard-sized “Trump 2024” flag. 

Tabacco, also a musician, said that Trump is “doing amazingly” under a blizzard of civil and criminal cases in Florida, Georgia, Washington, D.C. and New York, and he credited the former president with making the most of his court appearances. 

“Donald Trump’s the greatest showman that ever lived,” Tabacco said. “When he enters court it’s like a red carpet walk for him. As you can see he’s in the middle of a presidential race and all eyes of the world are here. Look at all the media here: Everyone wants to get one shot of Donald Trump getting out of his car in front of the courthouse. To me I think he relishes in this stuff.”

Trump supporters gather at Collect Pond Park near Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday.

Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Tabacco argued that all the trial-centered media exposure is helping him politically, especially with minority voters that have traditionally supported Democrats.  

“I do a lot of street interviews,” Tabacco said. “I go into minority, Democrat areas and ask them questions, talk to people, and more and more people in the minority communities — Hispanic. Latino, African-American — they say, ‘This is what’s been happening to us our whole life. We’ve been getting persecuted by the criminal justice system. The Man’s after us, right?’”

“I think those people in those communities are identifying more with Trump every time they drag him to court,” he said.

John Tabacco outside the courthouse.

Sean Piccoli

At the opposite edge of the park, right-wing activist Laura Loomer led a rally of about a dozen Trump supporters. She would later attribute the reduced turnout among demonstrators to timing, telling reporters, “It’s a Monday. Also Tax Day.” She complained that the whole Democratic establishment was scheduling Trump trials on “inconvenient days” to depress turnout among the Trump faithful.

Ringed by reporters, Loomer spoke through a bullhorn and railed at Democrats in general and at the judge, Juan Merchan, presiding over the hush money trial for actions including the judge’s gag order on Trump.

“He cannot speak,” Loomer said of Trump. “We have to be his voice.”

As she spoke, a skirmish broke out behind her. A woman holding up a sign that read, “Liar cheater loser,” had her sign yanked down by a pro-Trump woman who then bodily shoved the Trump critic backwards several feet until she ran into a fence and fell down. 

“You’re on the wrong side,” the Trump supporter said, referring less to political alliegances than a security measure — loosely enforced — intended to keep pro- and anti-Trump demonstrators on opposite sides of the park, with several yards of barricade fencing between them.

The early-morning anti-Trump contingent was even sparser. “There’s nobody here,” Nadine Seiler of Waldorf, MD, remarked to another demonstrator inside their designated half of the protest pen. 

Nadine Seiler outside the courthouse.

Seiler said that she traveled from her home in the outer Washington, D.C., suburbs to show support for the case, which she likened to the government prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion. 

Standing beneath a hand-painted banner that read, “Trump criminal trial 4/15/24,” in graffiti  lettering, Seiler admitted to some disappointment that so few like-minded people were here. 

“The reason he is allowed to do and get away with everything he’s getting away with is because, where is everybody? We are a country of over 340-something million people,” she said.

Later in the morning, a group of Trump critics gathered at a plaza about two blocks away, near the courthouse famous as an opening credits backdrop on Law & Order. More than a dozen demonstrators holding large yellow alphabet cut-outs arranged themselves at the base of a statue into a message reading, “Not above the law.” 

There were other comedians present, including The Good Liars and an appearance by Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog (along with Robert Smigel), who had an exchange with Trump supporter John McGuigan.

PREVIOUSLY: Prosecutors asked Judge Juan Merchan to fine Donald Trump $3,000 for violating a partial gag order in the case.

New York Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy cited social media posts in which Trump attacked Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, who are expected to be witnesses in the case. On April 1, Merchan imposed a gag order on Trump that restricts his comments on a number of participants in the case, including witnesses, courtroom staff and prosecutors other than District Attorney Alvin Bragg. The judge later expanded the order to include his own family, after Trump attacked his daughter.

“We think it is important for the court to remind Mr. Trump [he] is a criminal defendant,” Conroy said.

Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche argued that the social media posts did not violate the order and that the former president was responding to “salacious, repeated, vehement attacks by these witnesses.”

Merchan did not issue a ruling before a lunchtime break.

The judge did warn Trump that he could face jail time if he disrupts the proceedings.

PREVIOUSLY: Prosecutors will be allowed to present evidence that Donald Trump had a special arrangement with the National Enquirer during the 2016 election cycle to publish positive stories about him and negative pieces on his rivals.

Judge Juan Merchan said that he would allow such evidence in the case, per a courtroom pool.

The Enquirer’s bias was apparent throughout that cycle, what with its puff pieces on Trump while publishing wild conspiracy theories about Ted Cruz’s father’s involvement in the JFK assassination and of Hillary Clinton’s health.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Trump’s attempts to cover up hush money payments in advance of the election was part of an effort to secure an electoral advantage. David Pecker, who was then CEO of Enquirer parent American Media, reportedly appeared before a grand jury in the case. He presided over a “catch and kill” scheme in which the Enquirer bought the rights to the story of Karen McDougal, only to never publish a piece. McDougal was a former Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump.

The judge will not allow prosecutors to play the infamous Access Hollywood tape before jurors, but said that they could introduce the exact words that Trump said. They just cannot play the recording itself.

Merchan also denied Trump’s attorneys efforts to have him recused from the case.

PREVIOUSLY: Donald Trump entered the courtroom for the start of his criminal trial today on charges that he falsified business records to cover up hush money payments to former porn actress Stormy Daniels and others.

Just before entering, Trump blasted the prosecution, calling it “political persecution, persecution like never before.”

About a half hour earlier, as Trump arrived at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse today around 9 a.m. ET, the media presence reflected the magnitude of the moment: Long lines of reporters or standers to obtain scarce seats, helicopters tracking the former president’s motorcade and repeated reminders of why this proceeding is unique.

At the official launch of the network’s coverage, CNN’s Jake Tapper opened coverage by telling viewers that Trump “will become the first former president in all 247 years of this republic’s existence to ever stand criminal trial.”

Sean Piccoli

Just outside the courthouse, only a smattering of demonstrators were present, a contrast to the carnival-like atmosphere of Trump’s indictment a year ago, and reporters well outnumbered protesters.

That may be a function of the fact that today’s proceedings will be devoted to jury selection, a crucial but not-exactly captivating part of the process. Given the stakes and the expected difficulty in finding genuinely impartial jurors, jury selection may take days.

Networks have reporters inside and outside the courthouse, but what they don’t have are cameras to capture the proceedings. New York generally prohibits them, which will force media outlets to rely on staff accounts as close to real time as possible. Reporters are forbidden from using cell phones inside the courtroom, but they can text in an overflow with a closed-circuit feed. The judge is allowing some limited pool images of Trump in the courtroom, but not of the proceedings. Given the restrictions, the networks are supplementing their coverage with legal and political analysis, but it’s doubtful that viewership would match what it would have been had televised proceedings been allowed.

As he has before in person and on social media, Trump told reporters outside the courtroom that he was “”very proud to be here” but blasted the proceedings, calling the trial an “assault on America.” After his remarks, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins remarked that “he did say one thing that is accurate: This is a historic case.” She pointed out the falsity of Trump’s often-repeated suggestion that Joe Biden was behind his prosecution, given that this is a New York state proceeding.

According to a pool report from Laura Italiano, Trump entered the courtroom “hunch-shouldered, but chin up, his expression stern, on his 10-second walk up the aisle of the largely empty courtroom.”

Donald Trump departs Trump Tower en-route to Manhattan Criminal Court.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Trump also is under a partial gag order from Judge Juan Merchan that prohibits him from attacking courtroom staff, most prosecutors and the judge’s family, as well as the jurors. Trump has continued to attack Michael Cohen, his former attorney who is expected to be a primary prosecution witness, but Merchan has not taken any steps yet to warn Trump or sanction him.

Trump’s attorneys have waged numerous attempts to delay the start of the proceedings, but they have been rejected by Merchan and appeals courts. The latest will be a motion for Merchan to recuse himself, given his involvement in previous cases involving the Trump organization. But he is expected to deny that motion.

Earlier today, Trump’s campaign introduced a new ad tied to the trial. “They want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom,” Trump says in the spot.

More to come.

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