Trump on Trial: ‘We have our jury’

<span>Donald Trump listens to his lawyer Todd Blanche during jury selection in Manhattan state court in New York City, on 18 April 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters</span>
Donald Trump listens to his lawyer Todd Blanche during jury selection in Manhattan state court in New York City, on 18 April 2024.Photograph: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

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On the Docket: ‘We have our jury’ (after some setbacks)

Late Thursday afternoon, after hours of contentious jury selection in former president Donald Trump’s first criminal case, presiding Judge Juan Merchan had some good news: “We have our jury.”

Twelve New Yorkers were selected and sworn in as jurors. And while jury selection isn’t done quite yet – the process still needs to yield six alternates, and only one was selected – the movement puts the trial itself within reach. Merchan reiterated that he hoped opening statements could take place Monday morning.

That was a major shift after the day began with a series of setbacks that showed just how taxing it could prove to serve on the jury.

A woman who had been selected on Tuesday to serve on the jury was brought in after calling the court to express concerns about whether she could be fair and impartial. She told Merchan that she “definitely has concerns” about being a juror – because of the amount of identifying information that the media had shared about her. After she had been selected, that woman said she had friends, colleagues and family warn her that she’d been publicly identified.

Merchan excused that juror from serving, then lamented that “we just lost” someone who could have been a good juror. He directed the media not to include physical appearances that could identify jurors, complaining specifically about reports mentioning that one of the jurors had an Irish accent. He then set a new rule: reporters could no longer report prospective jurors’ current or past workplaces.

That juror’s dismissal came after heavy media coverage of who had been picked for the jury – some of it more responsible than others.

Fox News host Jesse Watters, for instance, did an entire segment ticking through the details available on every juror, mentioning the neighborhood that this juror lived in, her profession and her marital status, concluding: “I’m not so sure about” her. (He then mocked the next juror on the list by making a face after saying the juror was wearing a purple jacket, then pointing out he was a corporate lawyer at a firm that touted its diversity, equity inclusion efforts.)

That female juror wasn’t the only one excused. Another juror who had been selected was brought back in to answer whether he had been honest in answering earlier questions.

Prosecutors flagged that they had found an article about a person with the same name who had been arrested in the 1990s for tearing down political posters. They also disclosed that the man’s wife may have been involved in a corruption inquiry and cooperated with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting Trump’s case.

That man came in and had an extended, but friendly seeming, back and forth with Merchan, prosecutors and Trump’s attorneys out of earshot of reporters, and was eventually booted from the jury.

While it wasn’t the reason he was dismissed, the man made clear that he’d also been frustrated by how much personally identifiable information had been shared about him during the jury selection process. “I don’t want to overstate it or understate it but he expressed annoyance,” Merchan said.

Trump has been put under a gag order not to talk or post on social media about the jurors as a way to protect them from intimidation and potential threats. But he’s already been testing the limits of that gag order, reposting attacks on multiple other witnesses while relentlessly attacking Merchan himself (who isn’t included in the order).

Prosecutors have asked Merchan to sanction Trump for violating that order. Merchan hasn’t made a determination on that yet – but as court concluded on Thursday, he made clear he knew it was an issue.

When Trump’s lawyers asked for the names of the first three witnesses the prosecution planned to call, prosecutors balked, saying that because Trump had been posting on social media, they didn’t want to give up that information.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche offered a deal: he would “commit to the court and the people that President Trump will not Truth about any witness”.

Merchan scoffed. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” he said.

Read the Guardian’s full report on day three of the trial

In other news:

Trump’s legal team said in a court filing that it tried to serve a subpoena to adult film actor Stormy Daniels as she arrived for an event at a bar in Brooklyn last month, but that she had refused to take it and walked away. Daniels’ alleged affair with Trump is at the heart of the criminal case, which alleges that Trump falsified business records by repaying his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen “legal fees” after Cohen paid to have Daniels’ story kept private before the 2016 election. Trump’s lawyers asked Merchan to force Daniels to comply with the subpoena.

On Wednesday, prosecutors submitted paperwork alerting Trump’s lawyers about what exactly they’d want to ask him if he does decide to take the witness stand. That includes allegations of sexual abuse, his earlier civil trial loss on falsification of business records, his civil trial defamation loss to E Jean Carroll and a “frivolous, bad-faith lawsuit” he’d filed against Hillary Clinton that was later dismissed. Merchan will determine what, if anything, from this list prosecutors would be allowed to ask Trump if he did take the stand. Trump has pledged to do so, but it seems unwise and unlikely that his lawyers would want him to.

• Victoria Bekiempis laid out the “surreal spectacle” of this jury selection: “Trump has been forced to sit and listen as ordinary New Yorkers were asked their thoughts on him and America.” It’s very much worth a read.