Day 2 of Trump’s Criminal Trial: Five Takeaways


After the first day of jury selection in Donald J. Trump’s criminal trial saw the dismissal of dozens of potential jurors who said they could not be impartial, the first seven jurors were chosen on Tuesday as the defendant looked on.

The picks came after a morning session in which several more potential jurors said that they could not be unbiased, underscoring the challenges of seating a panel in Manhattan, a profoundly Democratic borough.

Mr. Trump, 77, is charged with falsifying nearly three dozen business records in an attempt to cover up a payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, who has said she had a brief sexual encounter with him in 2006.

If convicted, he could face probation or up to four years of prison time. Mr. Trump denies having been involved with Ms. Daniels, and has declared his innocence, calling the charges against him a “witch hunt” conjured by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, a Democrat.

Here are five takeaways from Mr. Trump’s second day on trial:

The trial is expected to last about six weeks, according to Juan M. Merchan, who is overseeing it, and court officials had warned that the selection of 12 jurors and several alternates might take two weeks.

But Justice Merchan, an experienced jurist known for his no-nonsense style, has kept things moving fast. Before leaving Tuesday, he swore in another 96 prospective jurors, who will return on Thursday — Wednesday is an off day for the trial — raising the possibility that a full jury will be seated this week.

The seven jurors who were selected were told to return on Monday. Justice Merchan said that if jurors continue to be seated at this pace, opening arguments will likely begin that day.

Potential jurors answer a basic set of 42 questions, many with subsections, and then lawyers quiz them directly.

For the prosecution, this meant asking about the rule of law, flawed witnesses and immunity deals, and whether they believed people could be guilty of crimes that they helped plan but did not carry out. Prosecutors also asked prospective jurors about their feelings about Mr. Trump, but insisted they were irrelevant.

“This case has nothing to do with your personal politics,” Joshua Steinglass, a prosecutor, told the group.

But the defense team, led by Todd Blanche, was intensely concerned with prospective jurors’ feelings about the former president, asking again and again, “What is your opinion of President Trump?”

He made a point of reminding prospective jurors that Mr. Trump was innocent until proven guilty.

“He has no burden to do anything,” Mr. Blanche said.

Inside the dingy Lower Manhattan courtroom, Mr. Trump, a showman and salesman at heart, is not allowed to speak his mind. Indeed, he was warned on Monday that outbursts would not be tolerated. Unlike the other trials he has faced, he has so far not caused any major disturbances.

Outside the courtroom is another matter. Mr. Trump has taken to addressing reporters — and their cameras, of course — in short bursts, bashing the case and the judge’s decisions.

That strategy continued on Tuesday morning, as he stopped before entering the courtroom to tell reporters that the trial “should have never been brought.” He called Justice Merchan, as he has many times before, “a Trump-hating judge.”

Mr. Trump has not totally avoided moments of bluster inside the courtroom. After Mr. Blanche questioned a prospective juror about a video on her social media feed that suggested she supported President Biden, Mr. Trump muttered something under his breath.

Justice Merchan was angered.

“I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom,” the judge said.

Last month, Justice Merchan ruled that prospective jurors’ names would be shielded from the public.

Yet several have provided potentially identifying information, including the names of their employers. One, a city worker, revealed her agency. One disclosed the name of the three-person company she owns with her husband.

In his March 7 order establishing the limited anonymity, Justice Merchan said it would prevent the bribery or harassment of jurors. But some prospective jurors revealed sensitive information on their own, without any interjection from the judge.

Lawyers and jury experts say that jury selection is one of the most critical elements of any trial, let alone the first criminal trial of a former American president. The mood inside Justice Merchan’s courtroom on Tuesday was tense, as lawyers for both sides probed for potential biases or facts that would help them.

But there were still humorous moments. Asked whether she knew anyone in the legal field, one prospective juror said that she had “dated a lawyer for a while”

She then paused, before adding: “It ended fine.”

Another prospective juror, a Lower East Side resident, drew laughs with his very-New-York answer to a question about how he spent his spare time.

“I have no spare time,” he said.

And when one potential juror asked if her planned September wedding might be a conflict, Justice Merchan smiled.

“If we’re sitting in September,” he said. “That would be a real problem.”


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