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Trump returns to New York criminal court for jury selection

former u.s. president trump's criminal trial on charges of falsifying business records continues in new york
Former President Donald Trump awaits the start of proceedings on the second day of jury selection at Manhattan criminal court, New York

Donald Trump arrived at a Manhattan courthouse for the second day of his historic hush-money trial on Tuesday, as lawyers try to choose 12 jurors to consider the guilt or innocence of the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges.

The first day on Monday underscored the challenges of the task.

Roughly half of 96 potential jurors questioned were dismissed after saying they could not impartially judge the polarizing businessman-turned-politician, who is mounting a comeback White House bid while battling four separate criminal cases.

A New York native who now lives in Florida, Trump was a fixture in the city’s tabloid press for decades before he won the presidency as a Republican in 2016. But as a politician, he has never been able to count on the heavily Democratic city for votes.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, has charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. Daniels says she had a sexual encounter with Trump about a decade beforehand.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies an encounter took place.

To prove a felony, prosecutors must show that Trump covered up the payment to conceal a crime like an illegal campaign contribution.

Trump has said the payment was personal. His lawyers have said there could have been reasons beyond his campaign to make the payment, such as sparing himself and his family embarrassment.

In other jurisdictions, he stands accused of mishandling classified information and trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Democrat Joe Biden. But the hush-money case may be the only one to go to trial before Trump faces Biden again in the Nov. 5 election.

If convicted, Trump would still be able to run for office and serve as president if he won. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that half of independents and a quarter of his fellow Republicans would not vote for him if he is found guilty.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four criminal cases, and says they are a plot by Biden’s Democrats to neutralize him politically.

Though the New York case is centered on events that took place more than seven years ago, prosecutors are trying to hold Trump accountable for more recent conduct as well.

On Monday, they asked Justice Juan Merchan to fine Trump $1,000 for each of three social media posts this month that criticized Daniels and Michael Cohen, Trump‘s former fixer who is expected to be a prominent witness in the trial.

Under a gag order imposed by Merchan, Trump is barred from making statements about witnesses, court staff and family members that are meant to interfere with the case. Trump‘s lawyer Todd Blanche said the former president was only responding to their criticism of him.

Merchan said he will consider the fines on April 23.

Trump took to his social media platform Truth Social on Tuesday morning to criticize Merchan, saying the judge would not allow him to respond to “people that are on TV lying and spewing hate all day long.”

“Take off the Gag Order!!!” he wrote.

NO SUPREME COURT VISIT

Jury selection is expected to consume the rest of the week, and the trial is scheduled to last through at least May. Trump is required to be in court throughout, and on Monday Merchan denied a request for him to miss a session so he could attend a hearing at the U.S. Supreme Court, where his lawyers will argue that Trump should not be prosecuted for actions he took as president.

“He thinks he’s superior, I guess, to the Supreme Court. We’ve got a real problem with this judge,” Trump said after Monday’s session.

The 12 jurors selected for the trial, along with six alternates, will hear testimony from Daniels and Cohen, who has said he made the payments to buy her silence.

Other expected witnesses include David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, who prosecutors say ran stories to boost Trump‘s 2016 campaign.

Also due up is Karen McDougal, a former model for Playboy magazine who prosecutors say was paid by the National Enquirer to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

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