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Seven jurors picked in Trump’s N.Y. trial as judge presses ahead

NEW YORK — The judge overseeing former president Donald Trump’s criminal trial said opening statements could begin as soon as Monday, as the jury selection process sped up and Trump got an earful from the people who might soon decide his fate.

Lawyers for Trump on Tuesday repeatedly argued that old social media posts by many of the prospective jurors or their friends showed that they were not being forthcoming about their animosity toward him, while prosecutors argued that old dumb jokes on the internet were not a cause to dismiss someone from the panel.

Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president in the November election, spent hours listening as potential jurors offered their opinions of him — some blunt, some guarded and some just funny.

By the end of the day, seven people had been sworn in as jurors — more than a third of the total number of people that will be needed to hold a trial with a full jury and six alternates.

If New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan can stick to that pace, the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president will be fully underway in less than a week — a potential turning point for Trump’s campaign to return to the White House.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg says Trump orchestrated a scheme before the 2016 election to pay off an adult-film actress to keep her quiet about a sexual liaison with him years earlier, and then created a false paper trail to hide the true purpose and source of the payment.

The court will need to find 11 more panelists to sit in judgment of Trump, which will mean more chances for potential jurors to opine on the pugilistic politician. Merchan has ordered that the names of the prospective jurors remain confidential, although the prosecutors and defense lawyers are made aware of their names.

Trump “stirs the pot; he speaks his mind,” said one potential juror, a woman who works at a senior care facility. “You can’t judge him because he speaks his mind.”

Pressed by Trump lawyer Todd Blanche on what she thought of Trump’s outspoken nature, she laughed and said, “Come on, what can you say about that? If I told you all the time what I thought about people — I want to say some things to people, but my mama said be nice.”

Blanche questioned the prospective juror as the selection process began focusing more closely on each potential panelist’s views about him. Trump’s defense team is worried about trying to assemble a jury from heavily Democratic Manhattan, where he is unpopular.

Many potential jurors who made it through the initial screening insisted that they could be fair, and some of them openly resisted stating what their political views were, despite being pressed repeatedly by Blanche.

One prospective juror questioned Tuesday said he was originally from Mexico but took an oath to become a U.S. citizen in 2017 — the same year Trump was sworn into office. Asked how that might affect his view of the case, the man said it would not.

“Feelings are not facts,” he said. “I’m very grateful to be an American, and that happened on the first year that he was president.”

Another prospective juror, a woman with black glasses, became animated discussing how Trump, like any criminal defendant, has a right not to testify if he doesn’t want to.

“If he decides not to speak … that’s your right; you can’t presume that makes him guilty,” she said, waving her hand for emphasis. The prosecutor, she said, is “the one that has to present those facts and prove them, but as I said, he has the right not to say them.”

At the end of her comments, Blanche smiled and said, “I don’t think I could have said it better myself.”

Trump’s legal team seized on social media posts tied to some prospective jurors that the defense lawyers said showed that those people could not be impartial.

One prospective juror had posted, years earlier: “Good news!! Trump lost his court battle on his unlawful travel ban!!!” Merchan said that if the juror had stopped there, there would not be a problem, but the man’s post went on to say, “Get him out, and lock him up.”

Questioned about the post, the man said he no longer believed Trump should be “locked up,” at which point Trump craned his neck toward him and smirked. The judge dismissed the man from the jury pool.

Another woman in the jury pool was asked about a video she posted to social media after the 2020 election, which showed people in Upper Manhattan celebrating the results.

The juror said she happened to see the celebrations while parking her car and recorded them for posterity, and did not believe doing so would affect her judgment in the case.

“Regardless of my thoughts about anyone or anything or political feelings or convictions,” she said, “the job of a juror is to understand the facts of a trial and to be the judge of those facts.”

Blanche argued she should be dismissed for cause, calling her Facebook posts “extraordinarily hostile,” but the judge disagreed, saying she had provided what he believed was a reasonable explanation.

During the long day of questioning, Trump’s mood seemed to drift from uninterested to upset. At one point, Merchan warned Trump that he didn’t like his reaction to one potential juror.

The judge said he could tell Trump was gesturing and mumbling in reaction to the potential juror loud enough for others to hear.

“I will not have any jurors intimidated in the courtroom,” Merchan cautioned the defense.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass tried to reassure the jurors that no one was trying to keep people with political beliefs off the jury — just to find jurors who would not let those beliefs influence their view of the case.

“It seems that everyone and their mother has an opinion about this case, and what the right outcome may be, however uninformed that opinion may be,” Steinglass said. “This case has nothing to do with your personal politics.”

At another point, the prosecutor said it was fine to discuss what he called “the obvious: The defendant in this case is both the former president and a candidate for that office. No one is suggesting that you can’t be a fair juror because you’ve heard of Donald Trump. We don’t expect you to have been living under a rock.”

The defense challenged a potential juror from the Upper West Side over online posts made or shared by her husband in 2016, including one that had a theme of the Avengers, a group of comic-book heroes, uniting against Trump.

Steinglass argued that Trump’s lawyers were making too much of old social media posts. “People post things on social media … that seem to be funny at the time, and that’s not necessarily as weighty as people think it is,” he said.

The judge agreed. “If this is the worst thing that you’re able to find about this juror,” Merchan said, it gave him more confidence in her ability to be fair and impartial.

One potential juror questioned about her social media posts said that they were years old and that she had stopped posting about politics.

“It got too vitriolic for me,” she said. “I learned a good lesson.” She said that she had had trouble sleeping the night before while thinking about the significance of the case but insisted she knew she could be fair.

“This is, like, a big deal in the grander scheme of things,” she said.

One potential juror said she wasn’t particularly interested in politics but added: “Obviously, I know about President Trump. I’m a female.”

When Blanche asked what she meant by that, she answered: “I’m a female, he’s targeted some females, so I would say some of my friends have strong opinions on him.” The woman said she did not know much about the allegations.

Another potential juror, a woman who works in cybersecurity, answered a question about whether she has close friends in the legal profession by saying she “dated a lawyer for a while. It ended fine.” As some in the courtroom laughed, the woman added, “Sorry, lawyers.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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