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12 jurors have been picked for Donald Trump's hush money trial. Selection of alternates ongoing

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A jury of 12 people was seated Thursday in former President Donald Trump’s history-making hush money trial, propelling the proceedings closer to opening statements and the start of weeks of dramatic testimony.

The court quickly turned to selecting alternate jurors, with the process on track to wrap up by the end of the week. Prosecutors could begin presenting their case early next week.

The jury of New Yorkers includes a sales professional, a software engineer, a security engineer, an English teacher, a speech therapist, multiple lawyers, an investment banker and a retired wealth manager.

The first-ever trial of a former American president is unfolding during this year's race for the White House, meaning the presumptive Republican nominee will spend his days in court confronted by salacious and unflattering testimony about his personal life while simultaneously campaigning to reclaim the office he held for four years.

He's made clear his determination to use his legal jeopardy, already a central issue in the race against Democratic incumbent Joe Biden, to his advantage. After a full day of jury selection, he complained to reporters that he should have been out campaigning but was in court instead for what he said was a “very unfair trial.”

“Everybody’s outraged by it,” he said. “You know the whole world’s watching this New York scam.”

Jury selection proceeded at a plodding pace earlier Thursday when two jurors were dismissed, one after expressing doubt about her ability to be fair following disclosure of details about her identity and the other over concerns that some of his answers in court may have been inaccurate.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York, Jan. 11, 2024. Trump’s lawyers have asked a New York appellate court to halt collection of the former president’s US$454 million civil fraud judgment while he appeals. Trump’s lawyers said in a court filing Wednesday that he is planning to post a US$100 million appeal bond rather than a bond covering the full amount, which would automatically pause enforcement. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool Photo via AP, File)

But lawyers who began the day with only five jurors settled on the remaining seven in quick succession, along with one alternate. Judge Juan Merchan has said his goal is to have six alternates.

The process of picking a jury is a critical phase in any criminal trial but especially so when the defendant is a former president and the presumptive Republican nominee. Prospective jurors have been grilled on their social media posts, personal lives and political views as the lawyers and judge search for any bias that would prevent them from being impartial.

Inside the court, there’s broad acknowledgment of the futility in trying to find jurors without knowledge of Trump. A prosecutor this week said that lawyers were not looking for people who had been “living under a rock for the past eight years.”

To that end, multiple jurors chosen for the panel acknowledged having personal opinions of Trump or his presidency.

One juror, a man who works in investment banking, earlier described himself as “ambivalent” about Trump, adding, “I might not like some of his policies, but there has been some good” for the country.

A woman picked for the jury said she thought Trump seemed “very selfish and self serving," adding, “I don’t really appreciate that from any public servant.” Defense lawyers were out of peremptory strikes, which allow them to dismiss a juror without giving a reason.

The trial centers on a US$130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and personal fixer, made to porn actor Stormy Daniels to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump from becoming public in the final days of the 2016 race.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of the payments in internal records when his company reimbursed Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018 and is expected to be a star witness for the prosecution.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally in Conway, South Carolina, on Feb. 10. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File via CNN Newsource)

Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He could get up to four years in prison if convicted, though it’s not clear that the judge would opt to put him behind bars. Trump would almost certainly appeal any conviction.

Trump faces four criminal cases, but it's not clear that any others will reach trial before the November election. Appeals and legal wrangling have caused delays in the other three cases charging Trump with plotting to overturn the 2020 election results and with illegally hoarding classified documents.

The jury selection process picked up momentum Tuesday with the selection of seven jurors. But on Thursday, Merchan revealed in court that one of the seven, a cancer nurse, had “conveyed that after sleeping on it overnight she had concerns about her ability to be fair and impartial in this case.”

And though jurors’ names are being kept confidential, the woman told the judge and the lawyers that she had doubts after she said aspects of her identity had been made public.

“Yesterday alone I had friends, colleagues and family push things to my phone regarding questioning my identity as a juror," she said. "I don’t believe at this point that I can be fair and unbiased and let the outside influences not affect my decision making in the courtroom.”

A second seated juror was dismissed after prosecutors raised concerns that he may not have been honest in answering a jury selection question by saying that he had never been accused or convicted of a crime.

The IT professional was summoned to court to answer questions after prosecutors said they found an article about a person with the same name who had been arrested in the 1990s for tearing down political posters pertaining to the political right in suburban Westchester County.

A prosecutor also disclosed that a relative of the man may have been involved in a deferred prosecution agreement in the 1990s with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting Trump’s case.

Because the juror was questioned Thursday at the judge’s bench, off-microphone and out of earshot of reporters, it was not known whether the man confirmed or denied that either instance was connected to him.

After dismissing from the jury the nurse who had already been selected, Merchan ordered journalists in court not to report prospective jurors’ answers to questions about their current and former employers.

“We just lost, probably, what probably would have been a very good juror for this case, and the first thing that she said was she was afraid and intimidated by the press, all the press, and everything that had happened," Merchan said.

In other developments, prosecutors asked for Trump to be held in contempt over a series of social media posts this week.

The district attorney's office on Monday sought a US$3,000 fine for Trump for three Truth Social posts they said violated the order. Since then, prosecutors said he made seven additional posts that they believe violate the order.

Several of the posts involved an article that referred to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen as a “serial perjurer,” and one from Wednesday repeated a claim by a Fox News host that liberal activists were lying to get on the jury, said prosecutor Christopher Conroy.

Trump lawyer Emil Bove said Cohen “has been attacking President Trump in public statements,” and Trump was just replying.

The judge already scheduled a hearing for next week on the prosecution’s request for contempt sanctions over Trump’s posts.

Tucker reported from Washington.

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