Trump trial judge boots two jurors from hush money case

US News

Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. April 18, 2024. 

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

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A judge Thursday dismissed two jurors from the New York hush money trial of Donald Trump, potentially delaying opening arguments in the historic case.

Those two jurors, a man and a woman, were among the first group seated for the panel Tuesday.

The first juror was dismissed Thursday morning after she raised concerns about her identity being made public, and her ability to be fair. The second juror was excused after prosecutors questioned whether he had had been truthful in an answer about his criminal history.

The dismissals leave just five jurors seated on the third day of the Manhattan Supreme Court trial. Seven more jurors, plus six alternates, remain to be selected.

Prosecutors earlier Thursday accused Trump of violating his gag order in the case seven more times on social media since Monday. The gag order bars him making certain statements about jurors and witnesses, as well as the family members of the judge and Trump’s prosecutors.

“It’s ridiculous, it has to stop,” assistant District Attorney Chris Conroy told Judge Juan Merchan.

Conroy said that the “most disturbing post” by Trump echoed a claim by Fox News host Jesse Watters that the pool of potential jurors includes “undercover Liberal Activists lying to the Judge.”

In this courtroom sketch, former President Donald Trump far right, turns around and looks at prospective jurors who raised their hands requesting to be excused from the jury panel in Manhattan Criminal Court, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. 

Elizabeth Williams | Via Reuters

Conroy said prosecutors would decide later what sanctions to ask for against Trump. A hearing on Trump’s alleged gag order violations is set for next week.

The dismissed female juror said that on Wednesday, she received multiple calls from people asking whether she had been picked. Watters in a Tuesday night broadcast listed a number of details about the juror, including her marital status and news diet, and said, “I’m not so sure about” her.

That juror on Thursday morning told Merchan, “I don’t believe I can be fair and unbiased and let the outside influences not affect me in the courtroom.”

The judge apologized and promptly excused her from the trial. He admonished journalists covering the trial to “apply common sense” and refrain from publishing identifiable information about jurors who are supposed to be anonymous.

Merchan also ordered the press not to report the answers to a question on the jury questionnaire about past and current employers.

The parties were tasked Thursday with questioning a group of 96 prospective jurors to fill the remaining seats on the jury. But half of that group was quickly excused after they signaled to Merchan that they could not be fair and impartial.

Among the would-be jurors who remained, one person was dismissed after he compared Trump to the late former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi, who died last June, was a scandal-plagued billionaire who in 2012 was convicted of tax fraud.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records in a scheme to silence porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, seated far left, looks on with Judge Juan Merchan presiding as members of the jury panel answer questions from the jury questionnaire in Manhattan criminal court Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York.

Elizabeth Williams | Via Reuters

Despite Thursday’s dismissals, the trial is still proceeding at a pace where opening arguments could start by Monday — a week faster than some legal experts predicted.

Trump is required to sit in court throughout the trial, which convenes on all weekdays, except Wednesday, and is expected to last around six weeks.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has denounced the trial as a political “witch hunt” and complained that it prevents him from campaigning against President Joe Biden.

Read more about Trump’s hush money trial

But Trump has also used the media frenzy surrounding his trial — and his three other pending criminal cases — as an opportunity to spread campaign messages and attack his political foes. On Tuesday afternoon, Trump accused Judge Juan Merchan of “rushing” the trial.

He then traveled to a north Harlem bodega for a campaign stop aiming to suggest that his prosecutor, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, is failing to stop crime in New York City because of his focus on the trial.

On Wednesday, Trump complained that his legal team was given “not nearly enough” chances to reject potential jurors. In fact, he received the exact number of strikes allotted under New York law.

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