First Seven Jurors Selected Over Objections From Uncontained Trump

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Former President Donald Trump (R) and his attorney Todd Blanche appear for the second day of his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 16, 2024 in New York City. Jury sele... NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 16: Former President Donald Trump (R) and his attorney Todd Blanche appear for the second day of his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 16, 2024 in New York City. Jury selection continues in the criminal trial of the former president, who faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial. This is the first-ever criminal trial against a former president of the United States. (Photo by Mark Peterson-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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NEW YORK — Donald Trump is pushing the boundaries set for criminal defendants in the first days of his Manhattan hush money trial, at one point earning a rebuke from Judge Juan Merchan for purportedly trying to influence a prospective juror.

Part of this takes place via Trump’s attorneys, who are aggressively researching, questioning and challenging jurors. It’s partly via Trump himself who, Merchan said, “muttered” in the direction of a juror as attorneys questioned her. And it comes out more subtly in other ways: through Trump’s gestures, his attorneys’ willingness to challenge every juror before them until admonished not to do so, and the GOP presidential candidate’s attempts to turn the trial into a circus.

It’s all aimed at making a broad point. Trump is somehow above the proceedings, the case is illegitimate, and this attempt at accountability isn’t about principle, but power: It’s just another bad faith attempt to oppose him.

The court managed to select six jurors on Tuesday out of an initial panel of 96, and one out of a fresh panel. Judge Merchan said in court that he is aiming to conclude jury selection this week, clearing the way for opening arguments to begin on Monday.

For me, the day began bright and early once more on a cold Manhattan morning. Entrance to the courthouse is first-come first-serve, requiring a three-hour wait; even with that, I was the second-to-last one to make it in.

The day began with dozens more prospective jurors going through a 42 point questionnaire. Several more told the judge that they couldn’t remain fair and impartial, albeit for different reasons. One New York City finance worker told the judge that “growing up in the state of Texas, graduating from Texas A&M, I feel that I have some unconscious bias.”

It struck me that the ordering of the questions may have played a role here. One question asks whether the juror ever supported the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, QAnon, or other groups. The next one asks if the juror has any beliefs around whether a former President may be charged in state court. And the next asks if the juror has any “feelings or opinions about how Mr. Trump is being treated in this case.”

Several jurors went beyond the limited yes or not for these questions, instead providing variations of “I believe no one is above the law” or “I will be fair and impartial.”

After the questionnaire was finished, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, represented by prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, and Trump’s defense, led by attorney Todd Blanche, took turns speaking with the prospective jurors as a group. Steinglass had the jurors affirm in multiple ways that they, regardless of political views, background, or creed, were capable of judging the case solely based on the evidence; Blanche was up to something more complicated.

At first, he asked prospective jurors what their opinion was of Trump — what did they think of the guy? It mostly elicited neutral responses, or jurors saying that they may disagree with Trump politically but that it wouldn’t affect their judgment in the case.

But after a lunch break, Blanche revealed his strategy. He went sequentially, juror-by-juror, asking Merchan to strike jurors for cause, based on social media posts his team had found.

In some cases, it may have been warranted. One for cause challenge, which Merchan approved, involved a juror who posted “get him out and lock him up” when Trump was president.

Others earned laughs — like a juror’s husband who posted a meme about the Avengers teaming up to take down Trump and thirsted after a “naked Mark Ruffalo” — but revealed what was going on: Blanche was trying to corrode the premise that jurors could be impartial regardless of their political view.

It emerged the most clearly for one juror who Blanche was later forced to remove via one of his own, peremptory strikes after Merchan declined to approve his request. That juror posted a video of people celebrating on the day Trump lost the 2020 election, writing that she wanted to “spread the honk and cheer.”

Blanche tried to argue that it was evidence of bias, providing grounds for a for cause challenge, but what really infuriated Merchan was what Trump apparently did as the juror replied to questions: he “muttered” at her.

“I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom,” Merchan said, before telling Blanche to talk to Trump.

Throughout all of this, I find Trump’s presence in the room both impossible to ignore and immensely clarifying. His ongoing inability to recognize that he lost the 2020 election seemed to be driving Blanche’s argument here, almost a projection of the part of Trump’s mind which holds that anyone who votes against him is also his opponent.

The greater irony is that Trump, the ultimate social media poster, the man who tweeted his way to the White House, now faces judgment by a potential jury of his peers: other posters.

Trump ended up using six out of the ten peremptory challenges allotted him; the prosecution also used six. In the end, Merchan was able to confirm seven jurors. The foreperson is an immigrant and waiter with some college education, who likes MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Times, and Daily Mail as news sources. Other jurors include an immigrant asset manager, a schoolteacher who remarked that Trump “speaks his mind,” and a corporate attorney.

Merchan said that he wants to begin opening statements next week, and told the jurors to plan on being ready for court on Monday at 9:30 a.m. The court has to select twelve jurors and another six alternates before the trial can begin.

(Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Other elements of what happened on Tuesday reminded me of the cliché that, in spite of being the country’s largest city, New York in some ways remains a small town.

One prospective juror, seated late in the afternoon, said that because he works in real estate development and lives on the Upper East Side, “I know people that know the President.”

At another point, during lunch, the mayor decided to stop by.

I was waiting to cross the street to return to the courthouse. Along the street, which faces the courthouse entrance, dozens of TV networks — domestic and foreign — are lined up with their equipment so their reporters can shoot standups with the court in the background.

I noticed that many of these reporters were beginning to run towards the crosswalk, and towards me. Sadly, that had nothing to do with TPM’s coverage: rather, it was because NYC Mayor Eric Adams had apparently left his motorcade a block up, and decided to slowly sashay down the street, in full view of all the TV standups. I was lucky, and found myself at the spot where Adams eventually ended up. It was all extremely Trumpian; he spoke for a few minutes about how big the case is and the security involved, but it was mostly an incredibly obvious way for him to insert himself into a national story in which he had not yet played a part.

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