Jury selection could be nearing a close in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York

NEW YORK — A third panel of potential jurors will be questioned Friday in Donald Trump’s hush money case, bringing jury selection a step closer to completion in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

After a jury of 12 New Yorkers convened Thursday, attorneys are now expected to turn their attention to choosing alternates who can promise to put aside their personal views and evaluate the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Thursday’s court proceedings showed unpredictability in the jury selection process of such a high-profile case, with two jurors who had been seated a day earlier being dismissed from the panel.

The judge has suggested that opening statements in the criminal trial could begin as early as Monday, before prosecutors begin laying out their case alleging a scheme to cover up negative stories that Trump feared would harm his 2016 presidential campaign.

The trial will put Trump in a Manhattan courtroom for weeks, forcing him to juggle his dual roles as criminal defendant and political candidate against the backdrop of his hotly contested race against President Joe Biden. It will include salacious and unflattering testimony that his opponent will undoubtedly use to portray Trump as unfit to return as commander in chief.

After arriving at the courthouse on Friday, Trump railed against a judge-imposed gag order that limits what he can say publicly about witnesses. He has lashed out on social media at the judge, prosecutors and suspected witnesses, prompting prosecutors to seek sanctions for possible violations of the gag order.

“The gag order must be lifted. People can speak about me, and I have a gag order,” Trump said.

Judge Juan M. Merchan is also expected to hold a hearing Friday to consider a request from prosecutors to bring up Trump’s past legal entanglements if he takes a position in the hush money case. Prosecutors in Manhattan have said they want to question Trump about his recent civil fraud trial that resulted in a $454 million verdict after a judge found Trump had lied about his wealth for years. He is appealing against that verdict.

Trump says he has done nothing wrong and has portrayed himself as the victim of a politically motivated justice system bent on keeping him out of the White House.

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

The lawsuit centers on a $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 in the final days of the 2016 race would become public.

Prosecutors say Trump covered up 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 key witness for the prosecution.

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

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying company records. He could face up to four years in prison if convicted, although it is not clear whether the judge would choose to put him behind bars. Trump would almost certainly appeal any conviction.

Trump faces four criminal cases, but it is not clear that other criminal cases will be tried before the November election. Appeals and legal wrangling have caused delays in the other three cases in which Trump was accused of plotting to overturn the 2020 election results and illegally hoarding classified documents.


Richer reported from Washington.