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Trump's historic hush money trial seats 12 jurors, plus an alternate: 'We have our jury'

Jury selection got off to a rocky start Thursday after two of the jurors seated earlier in the week were excused. But by the end of the day, 12 jurors and an alternate had been sworn in.
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A full 12-person jury was selected Thursday for Donald Trump's hush money trial in New York City after both sides had questioned close to 200 potential jurors about whether they can be fair and impartial when it comes to the polarizing former president and the criminal charges against him.

"We have our jury," state Judge Juan Merchan said after the 12th juror was selected. One alternate was also selected, and five more still need to be picked. "I am hopeful we will finish tomorrow," the judge said before he swore the jury in.

If that happens, opening statements in the first criminal trial involving a former president could begin as early as Monday.

The panel is made up of seven men and five women. Among the new additions sworn in Thursday were a retired wealth manager, a speech therapist, a product development manager and a physical therapist. Those sworn in Tuesday included a lawyer, a salesman, a teacher and a software engineer.

After the day's court proceedings, Trump called the case against him "ridiculous."

"I’m supposed to be a lot of different places campaigning. But I’ve been here all day on a trial that really is a very unfair trial," the presumptive Republican nominee for president said.

"And I’m sitting here for days now from morning till night. In that freezing room freezing. Everybody was freezing," he added.

The jury was seated after a rocky start to the day. Two of the seven jurors who'd already been sworn in this week were dismissed in the morning.

The first was let go after she told the judge she now had concerns that she could not be impartial after friends, colleagues and family members asked her whether she was a juror on the case. The juror, a nurse, said she did not believe she could "let the outside influences not affect my decision-making in the courtroom.” 

Donald Trump gives the thumbs-up as he returns to the courtroom
Donald Trump on Tuesday, the second day of jury selection, at Manhattan criminal court in New York. Justin Lane / AFP - Getty Images Pool

After she was dismissed, Merchan chided the media for reporting on some of the details of jurors' appearances and places of work and ordered the media not to report on physical descriptions of the prospective jurors or their answers about where they currently work and used to work.

“We just lost” what "probably would have been a very good juror for this case" because of such reporting, the judge said.

Merchan, who had ordered that the jury be kept anonymous because of safety concerns, said Thursday, “It kinds of defeats the purpose of an anonymous jury” if people can be easily identified.

The second juror was released after having been brought in for further questioning following concerns from prosecutors that one of his answers during questioning was not accurate.

The man, who had been sworn in as juror number 4, had said that neither he nor a family member had been accused of a crime, but Joshua Steinglass of the Manhattan district attorney's office discovered that somebody with the same name had been arrested in the 1990s for tearing down political posters and that his wife appeared to have been involved in a corruption inquiry by the DA's office in the same period.

Merchan said that during the additional questioning, which was conducted at the bench with the lawyers, the juror "expressed annoyance about how much information was out there about him in the public."

After he conferred with the lawyers, Merchan said, “I’m directing that juror number 4 be excused.”

After the two dismissed jurors were dealt with, attention turned once more to the process of selecting additional jurors from a pool of 96 people, the same size pool that was used Monday and yielded the jurors who have already been sworn in.

By the end of the day, Merchan had managed to replace the two dismissed panelists with two others and added five more to get a full jury, plus an alternate.

As it did with the earlier group, the process got off to a slow start. Asked as a group whether they thought they could not be fair or impartial, 48 people raised their hands and were dismissed — a slightly smaller number than the 50-plus who were excused Monday. Nine more were excused for undisclosed different issues before those remaining began individually answering questions from the judge's 42-question questionnaire.

One juror in the initial group, who said he was born and raised in Italy, was dismissed immediately after he compared Trump to Silvio Berlusconi, the late media tycoon and former prime minister of Italy who had been involved in numerous sex and corruption scandals.

“The Italian media have had a very strong association with Mr. Trump and Silvio Berlusconi,” the man said, adding, “It would be a little hard for me to retain my impartiality and fairness.”

Trump stared intently at the individual jurors as Steinglass, the prosecutor, began to question them. Trump appeared to smile after Steinglass said some witnesses “have what you might consider to be some baggage" and mentioned that one key witness, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

He continued watching the jurors as his attorney Susan Necheles questioned them. A female potential juror told her that "I don’t have strong opinions" about Trump but that "I don’t like his persona. I don’t like some of my co-workers, either.” When Necheles pressed her to elaborate, she said, “He seems very selfish and self-serving, and I don’t really appreciate that in a public servant.”

Trump did not appear to appreciate the response; he crossed his arms and muttered something to Emil Bove, another of his attorneys.

The next potential juror, a man who owns a construction-related firm, was more of a fan and said he was impressed by Trump’s rise as a businessman and politician. “He was our president. Pretty amazing," the man said.

Another juror addressed the elephant in the room, noting that it was pretty difficult not to have had strong feelings or conversations about Trump during his presidency.

The days of questioning have also served as a reminder that long before he was omnipresent nationally, he was a pervasive force in New York City. One potential juror who worked in real estate had friends who had worked with Trump, another recalled seeing Trump and his then-wife, Marla Maples, "shopping for baby things" in the 1990s, and another, who described himself as a "wannabe hockey player," said he was grateful to Trump for the work he had done on Wollman Rink in Central Park.

There were connections to Trump world, as well: Another potential juror said that her husband was a lawyer and that they had stayed together at Necheles' house about 15 years previously. Necheles moved to have the woman removed for cause, a request Merchan rejected. Necheles then used one of her limited peremptory challenges to have her stricken. All 10 had been used by the end of the day. Prosecutors had one left by the time the jury was chosen.

While both sides could make an unlimited number of challenges for cause, it is up to the judge to decide whether to grant those challenges and strike those jurors. Merchan dismissed two jurors for cause Tuesday and two on Thursday. One of those the judge dismissed was a woman who had posted on social media in 2016 that Trump is "anathema to anything I was taught about faith." She apologized for the post and said, "I do not hold those positions today." She added that she thinks Trump's politics are "spicy."

Earlier Thursday, the DA's office complained that Trump had continued to violate the gag order barring him from trashing potential jurors and witnesses with a series of posts on his social media platform, Truth Social.

"Since you signed the last order that we handed up on Monday, the defendant has violated the order seven more times,” Chris Conroy of the DA's office told the judge, adding: “It’s ridiculous. It has to stop.”

Bove, the Trump attorney, said that some of the posts were responses to accusations by Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, and that others were simply reposting items by other people and news outlets, which Bove maintained is not prohibited by the gag order.

Merchan has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on the DA's motion to hold Trump in contempt.

At the end of court Thursday, Trump attorney Todd Blanche asked Steinglass who the DA's first three witnesses would be, and Steinglass refused to say. He said it was a courtesy he would normally extend, but "Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We're not telling them who the witnesses are."

Merchan said that "he can't blame" prosecutors for taking that position and that he would not order them to disclose the identities of the first witnesses. Blanche then offered "to commit to the court ... that President Trump will not Truth about any witness."

"I don't think you can make that representation," the judge replied.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty. He faces up to four years in prison if he is convicted.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office alleges that Trump falsified business records to hide money he was paying Cohen to reimburse him for $130,000 he paid adult film actor Stormy Daniels near the end of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has claimed she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied that he slept with Daniels, but he has acknowledged repaying Cohen.

The DA's office also alleges that American Media Inc. paid $150,000 to model and actor Karen McDougal, who appeared in Playboy magazine and claimed that she had a nine-month affair with Trump before he was elected president, “in exchange for her agreement not to speak out about the alleged sexual relationship.”

Trump has also denied having a sexual relationship with McDougal.