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Trump comes face-to-face with prospective jurors, anonymous to public

NEW YORK — More than a year after he was criminally charged in his former home city, Donald Trump came face-to-face Monday with some of the New Yorkers who could decide his fate.

To protect their anonymity, however, the 96 prospective jurors brought into a 15th-floor courtroom at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Monday were referred to only by their court identification numbers. They were not shown on the closed-circuit feed in the media overflow room.

Manhattan prosecutors and Trump’s defense team received a list of names, but New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan strictly forbade them from making it public.

Trump, present in the courtroom for nearly six hours of proceedings, craned his neck to get a glimpse as the jury pool entered. He stood and looked their way when Merchan introduced him as the defendant.

And he listened impassively as the credentials of the first 10 prospective jurors came into view: Longtime New Yorkers, and some relative newcomers, who mostly read the New York Times, listen to NPR and watch CNN. A few said they tune into Fox News and read the conservative-leaning New York Post.

Most of those 10 prospective jurors who answered a questionnaire in court Monday were not voracious consumers of social media — with the exception of a marketing director — and none had read Trump’s books or attended his political rallies, or participated actively in anti-Trump rallies.

For the most part, they identified themselves as having no strong views of the defendant that could prevent them from being impartial — a seeming rarity in a nation sharply polarized, particularly on the question of Trump’s presidency and, in some quarters, his guilt or innocence.

There were only hints about how they might feel about the case in which Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up payments to an adult-film actress ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump has pleaded not guilty and called the prosecution politically motivated.

“I feel nobody is above the law — whether a sitting president, a former president or a janitor,” said one man, a bookseller. He copped to listening to a good amount of talk radio — when his morning alarm rings, in the shower and while commuting.

“It’s NPR on all three occasions,” the man said.

All told, a jury of 12 New Yorkers, with six alternates, will be selected to decide Trump’s fate.

Before hearing from individual prospective jurors, Merchan had asked any of the pool of 96 to raise their hands if they could not be impartial — or if they could not serve for any other reason. Several hands went up, and the judge dismissed them from the jury pool.

Then, one by one, they entered the jury box and read off the answers to the questions. New York is the city that made Trump famous, as a Queens-born real estate magnate who owns Trump Tower in Midtown, and whose residents first got to know him as a gossip-pages tabloid fixture during his rise in the 1980s.

But the opening day of jury selection sounded more like the prospective jurors were reciting their dating app profiles than sounding off about their partisan views of Trump.

The first man was a venture capitalist who likes to frequent city restaurants and listens to the New York Times’ podcast “The Daily,” a breakdown of the day’s biggest news stories.

The next man was a creative director who enjoys hiking, cooking and playing with his dog. One woman works in marketing and enjoys going to public parks and theater shows.

Were these folks Democrats or Republicans? MAGA or part of Resistance Twitter? It was difficult, if impossible, to say. Hints, based on education, news consumption or jobs, about where they fall on the political spectrum would have to be sussed out when the prosecutors and defense attorneys directly question the jury pool in the coming days.

There were humorous moments, and human ones: “My wife works at a bank but I have no idea what she does,” confessed one man, a public prosecutor who told Merchan that, despite his profession, he could judge Trump impartially.

For Trump, who is required to be in the courtroom each day for a trial that the judge has said could last six to eight weeks, an up-close view of the jury appears to be a key component of his legal strategy. His lawyers told Merchan that the former president, who once held summits with global leaders, wants to be present for private sidebar questioning of potential jurors in a small conference room.

Merchan responded that such a scenario, which would require a Secret Service agent to be present, could prove intimidating to the potential jurors — instead, he said, the sidebars would take place in the courtroom, with the rest of the jury pool removed.

By day’s end, there was but a single moment that appeared to reflect the nation’s great political polarization. One woman, who had not raised her hand to be dismissed, said “yes” to a question about whether she had strong feelings about Trump that could preclude her from being impartial.

The judge asked lawyers from both parties to approach the bench, then dismissed the woman, who likes to shop and go clubbing.

After walking out, the woman told a police officer: “I just couldn’t do it.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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