NATIONAL NEWS

Trump returns to court as jury selection enters second day in his hush money criminal trial

Apr 16, 2024, 8:30 AM

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom as he await...

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom as he awaits the start of the second day of his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 16, 2024 in New York City. Jury selection continues in the criminal trial of the former president, who faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial. This is the first-ever criminal trial against a former president of the United States. (Photo by Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Jury selection in Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumed Tuesday as lawyers worked to find a panel of New Yorkers who will decide whether the Republican who hopes to return to the White House will become the first former president convicted of a crime.

The first day of the historic trial in Manhattan ended Monday with no one yet chosen to be on the panel of 12 jurors and six alternates. Dozens of people were dismissed after saying they didn’t believe they could be fair, though dozens of other prospective jurors have yet to be questioned.

It’s the first of Trump’s four criminal cases to go to trial and may be the only one that could reach a verdict before voters decide in November whether the presumptive Republican presidential nominee should return to the White House.

The trial puts Trump’s legal problems at the center of the closely contested race against President Joe Biden. Trump paints himself as the victim of a politically motivated justice system working to deprive him of another term. It also presents a major test for the criminal justice system because the allegations are being viewed through a partisan lens, and Trump’s attacks on prosecutors and the judge threaten to undermine the public’s faith in the courts.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged effort to keep salacious — and, he says, bogus — stories about his sex life from emerging during his 2016 campaign.

Trump arrived at the courthouse just before 9 a.m., giving a quick wave to reporters as he headed inside. Before entering the courtroom, Trump stopped briefly to address a TV camera in the hallway, repeating his claim that the judge is biased against him and the case is politically motivated.

“This is a trial that should have never been brought,” Trump said. After he went inside, reporters saw him wink at one of the court officers and mouth, “How are you?” while he walked down the aisle. Trump then took his seat at the defense table with his attorneys.

The charges center on $130,000 in payments that Trump’s company made to his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen. He paid that sum on Trump’s behalf to keep porn actor Stormy Daniels from going public with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the sexual encounter ever happened.

Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen were falsely logged as legal fees. Prosecutors have described it as part of a scheme to bury damaging stories Trump feared could help his opponent in the 2016 race, particularly as Trump’s reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.

Trump has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for the payment and that it was designed to stop Daniels from going public about the alleged encounter. But Trump has previously said it had nothing to do with the campaign.

“I was paying a lawyer and marked it down as a legal expense,” he said. “That’s exactly what it was. And you get indicted over that? I should be right now in Pennsylvania, in Florida, in many other states — North Carolina, Georgia — campaigning,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.

Jury selection could take several more days — or even weeks — in the heavily Democratic city where Trump grew up and catapulted to celebrity status decades before winning the White House.

Only about a third of the 96 people in the first panel of potential jurors brought into the courtroom on Monday remained after the judge excused some members. More than half of the group was excused after telling the judge they could not be fair and impartial, and several others were dismissed for other reasons that were not disclosed.

Another group of more than 100 potential jurors sent to the courthouse Monday has not yet been brought into the courtroom for questioning.

If convicted of falsifying business records, Trump faces up to four years in prison, though there’s no guarantee he will get time behind bars.

Trump’s cases involving allegations of election interference and hoarding classified documents could lead to lengthy prison sentences, but those cases are tied up with appeals or other issues that make it increasingly unlikely they will be decided before the election.

And if Trump wins in November, he could presumably order a new attorney general to dismiss his federal cases, or he potentially could seek a pardon for himself.

___

Richer reported from Washington.

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Trump returns to court as jury selection enters second day in his hush money criminal trial