Jury selection completed in Donald Trump's hush money trial; opening statements set for Monday

Opening statements are set to take place Monday, Judge Merchan says

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Friday, April 19, 2024
Opening statements set for Monday in Trump trial; man sets himself on fire outside courthouse
N.J. Burkett has more on the Trump trial and the chaos that erupted outside the courtroom on Friday.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Opening statements are set for Monday after a full jury of 12 people and six alternates were seated in Donald Trump's hush money case in New York City, the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Lawyers spent days quizzing dozens of New Yorkers to choose the panel. The jury includes a sales professional, a software engineer, an English teacher and multiple lawyers.

Judge Juan Merchan says opening statements will take place on Monday morning, despite another request by the defense for an emergency stay of trial.

Merchan told Trump's lawyers to stop filing motions to reconsider, telling them "there comes a point where you accept my rulings."

"There's nothing else to clarify. There is nothing else to argue. We are going to have opening statements on Monday. We are starting on Monday," he said.

Leaving court, Trump seemed resigned to opening statements Monday. He blamed Judge Merchan.

"We just had another hearing and the trial starts on Monday, which is long before a lot of people thought," Trump said. "The judge wants this to go as fast as possible. Its for his reasons, not for my reasons."

It came hours after chaos erupted outside the courthouse. Emergency crews responded to a park nearby, where a person set themselves on fire.

Trump declined to answer questions about the self-immolation incident outside the courtroom.

Instead, the former president focused on his allegations of election interference by his political opponent President Joe Biden.

"This is a giant witch hunt to try and hurt a campaign that's beating the worst president in history," Trump said. "Biden is the worst president in the history of our country."

The hush money case is the first of Trump's four indictments to reach trial.


Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges that former president Donald Trump fraudulently and repeatedly falsified business records to conceal criminal conduct.

According to Bragg, Trump engaged in a scheme with his then-lawyer Michael Cohen and others to influence the 2016 election by suppressing negative information about Trump, including a $130,000 hush-money payment to suppress information about Trump's alleged sexual encounter with porn actress Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels.

After the election and while he was president, Trump authorized repaying Cohen through twelve $35,000 payments, which the Trump Organization characterized as payments for legal services pursuant to its retainer agreement with Cohen.

Those payments - which comprise the 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree - sit at the center of Bragg's criminal case.

Donald Trump's lawyers have argued that Bragg's case is a "deluded fantasy" that relies on the testimony of a convicted felon.

Defense lawyers have not yet clearly articulated a contrasting theory of the case, but recent filings suggest they plan to target the credibility of important witnesses, suggest the case was politically motivated, and argue that Trump did not intend to commit a crime.

While Trump's lawyers recently claimed they do not intend to make an advice-of-counsel defense - arguing Trump was just acting at the direction of his lawyers - they plan to highlight the involvement of lawyers in the scheme to prove Trump lacked the intent to commit crimes.


From the start of jury selection to a verdict, Trump's New York trial could run from six-to-eight weeks.

The schedule is subject to change and could vary based on the flow of the trial, including the need to call additional witnesses to authenticate evidence or rate of objections from the parties.

The trial will only be in session four days a week with a full-day recess on Wednesdays. We also expect that Judge Merchan will take multiple days off in observance of Passover.


Here are some of the factors that will go into jury selection:

Who can sit on the jury?

This jury will be made up only of people who live in Manhattan, one of New York City's five boroughs. All English-speaking, U.S. citizens over age 18 who have not been convicted of a felony are eligible for jury duty in New York. Court officials identify potential jurors from lists of registered voters, taxpayers, driver's license holders, public benefit recipients and other sources.

The pool of potential jurors for Trump's trial will have been chosen at random. People can volunteer for jury duty, but they can't pick what trial they serve on.

What if a juror doesn't want to serve?

Jury duty is compulsory, but you can get excused for a variety of reasons, including a financial or medical hardship.

How will the jury get picked?

Judge Juan M. Merchan will begin by bringing a large group of potential jurors into his courtroom. He will then give a brief outline of the case and introduce the defendant, Trump, to the jury. The judge will then ask the potential jurors a critical question: Can they serve and be fair and impartial? Those who cannot will be asked to raise their hand. For this trial, jurors who indicate they cannot serve or be fair will be dismissed.

Those who remain will be called in groups into the jury box, where they will be asked 42 questions, some with multiple parts.

The lawyers on each side will have a limited number of strikes they can use to exclude potential jurors who they don't like, without giving a reason. They can also argue that a particular juror should be excluded, but have to get the judge to agree to dismiss that person.

The process continues until 12 jurors and six alternates have been picked. More large groups of potential jurors can be brought into the courtroom, if needed.

What questions will jurors be asked?

The judge won't allow the lawyers to ask whether potential jurors are Democrats or Republicans, whom they voted for or whether they have given money to any political causes. But there are multiple questions aimed at rooting out whether people are likely to be biased against, or in favor of, Trump.

Among them:

"Do you have any political, moral, intellectual, or religious beliefs or opinions which might prevent you from following the court's instructions on the law or which might slant your approach to this case?"

"Have you, a relative, or a close friend ever worked or volunteered for a Trump presidential campaign, the Trump presidential administration, or any other political entity affiliated with Mr. Trump?"

"Have you ever attended a rally or campaign event for Donald Trump?"

"Do you currently follow Donald Trump on any social media site or have you done so in the past?"

"Have you, a relative, or a close friend ever worked or volunteered for any anti-Trump group or organization?"

"Have you ever attended a rally or campaign event for any anti-Trump group or organization?"

"Do you currently follow any anti-Trump group or organization on any social media site, or have you done so in the past?"

"Have you ever considered yourself a supporter of or belonged to any of the following: The QAnon movement, Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, Three Percenters, Boogaloo Boys, Antifa."

Jurors will be asked what podcasts and talk radio programs they listen to and where they get their news.

Will the public learn the identities of the jurors?

The judge has ordered that the jurors' names be kept secret, an unusual but not unprecedented step in trials where there is a potential that jurors might wind up being harassed or threatened during or after the trial. There is nothing to stop jurors from voluntarily talking about their experiences after the trial is over. While it is pending, they aren't supposed to talk about it to anyone.

What will this jury decide?

Jurors in this trial will listen to testimony and decide whether Trump is guilty of any of 34 counts of falsifying business records. Their decision to convict or acquit must be unanimous. If they cannot agree on a verdict, the judge can declare a mistrial. If jurors have a reasonable doubt that Trump is guilty, they must acquit him. If they convict him, the judge will be the one who decides the sentence, not the jurors.


Cohen, a Trump loyalist turned critic, is expected to be a key prosecution witness, as he was the one who orchestrated the payoffs. Before testifying in front of the grand jury that brought the indictment last year, Cohen said his goal was "to tell the truth" and insisted he is not seeking revenge but said Trump "needs to be held accountable for his dirty deeds." Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal charges, including campaign finance violations, for arranging the payouts to Daniels and McDougal.

Other expected witnesses include Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Daniels alleges that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 that she didn't want, but didn't say no to. Trump says it never happened.


Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has slammed the case as an effort to hurt his 2024 presidential campaign. Trump has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for the payment and that it was designed to stop Daniels from going public about the alleged encounter. But Trump said in 2018 it had nothing to do with the campaign.

Trump's lawyers will likely attack the case by trying to undermine the credibility of prosecution witnesses like Cohen and Daniels. Trump has described the two as liars, testing the limits of a gag order that the judge imposed. It seeks to curtail the president's inflammatory rhetoric about the case. Trump's lawyers are expected to paint Cohen as a con man and point to his conviction on multiple federal crimes as well as his disbarment to try to persuade jurors that he can't be believed.

Trump recently posted on social media a picture of a 2018 written statement from Daniels, in which she denied they had a sexual relationship. Not long after, Daniels recanted the statement and said that a sexual encounter had occurred. She said her denials were due to a non-disclosure agreement and that she signed the statement because the parties involved "made it sound like I had no choice."


The criminal counts against Trump are Class-E felonies - which are punishable by a maximum of four years in prison - and Merchan has discretion in sentencing if Trump is convicted.

Trump has a limited criminal history (despite his three other pending criminal cases), and similar cases suggest Trump's sentence could range from no prison time to a few years.

If Trump is convicted, Merchan could also weigh his "history and character" when determining the former president's sentence.

It is unclear if Trump, should he be convicted, would be required to report to prison before the November election.


Judge Merchan granted a 30-day adjournment of the case last month after defense lawyers requested discovery sanctions related to the late production by prosecutors of over 100,000 pages of potential evidence from federal prosecutors. The materials were discovered after defense lawyers subpoena federal prosecutors, and the Manhattan District Attorney promptly turned over any new materials in their possession.

While Trump's lawyers requested a longer delay or dismissal of the case, Merchan determined that Trump suffered no harm from the late production of evidence, and the DA's office met their obligations for the turnover of evidence.

"This Court finds the defendant will not suffer any prejudice as a result of the recent document production because the defendant has been given a reasonable amount of time to prepare and respond to the material," Merchan said at a March 25 hearing related to the evidence issue before setting the April 15th trial date.


Trump's three other criminal cases have gotten bogged down in legal fights and appeals, which may mean jurors won't hear about them before the November election.

The 2020 election interference case brought by special counsel Jack Smith remains on hold while Trump pursues his claim that he is immune from prosecution for actions he took while in the White House. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the matter in late April.

The other case brought by Smith accuses Trump of illegally retaining classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. The trial had been scheduled to begin in May, but the judge heard arguments last month to set a new trial date and has yet to do so.

No trial date has been set in the Georgia case accusing Trump and his allies of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. Prosecutors have suggested a trial date of August, but defense attorneys are now urging an appeals court to consider whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from the prosecution over a romantic relationship she had with a former top prosecutor who recently withdrew from the case.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all three cases and says he did nothing wrong.

Infomation from ABC News and the Associated Press

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