Trump due back in court as jury takes shape

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Donald Trump’s unprecedented criminal trial resumes Thursday in New York with the judge seeking to complete jury selection and kick off arguments in the politically explosive case early next week.

Moving the United States into uncharted waters, it is the first criminal trial of a former US president, one who is also battling to retake the White House in November.

Trump is facing allegations he falsified business records to cover up an embarrassing affair with a porn star to shield his 2016 presidential campaign from last-minute upheaval.

It is just the first of several criminal trials looming for the Republican White House hopeful, including one over his unprecedented efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election he lost to Joe Biden.

With such high stakes, there had been speculation jury selection could take weeks as Judge Juan Merchan and lawyers on both sides sift through the possibilities from a pool of people.

To convict Trump, the jury must render a unanimous verdict. Even one dissenting voice would see him walk free.

But the process has moved faster than expected. Eighteen jurors are needed — 12 plus six alternates. Seven had already been sworn in when court was adjourned on Tuesday.

Merchan ended that day saying he was hopeful opening arguments could begin as early as Monday.

Trump, forced to sit silently inside the courtroom each day as those who will sit in judgment on him are assembled, has railed against the process.

Merchan has already admonished him for muttering and gesturing at prospective jurors, warning: “I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom.”

And Trump posted on his Truth Social platform Wednesday that he “thought STRIKES were supposed to be ‘unlimited’ when we were picking our jury? I was then told we only had 10, not nearly enough.”

The claim is inaccurate — Trump’s team is entitled to 10 peremptory strikes, meaning they can remove candidates from the jury pool without explanation. Prosecutors get the same number.

The former president has also chafed against Merchan’s order that he be in court daily.

“I should be right now in Pennsylvania and Florida — in many other states, North Carolina, Georgia — campaigning,” the 77-year-old said in angry remarks outside court. He called Merchan “Trump-hating.”

Merchan has warned Trump against repeating his frequent past attempts to turn hearings into impromptu campaign appearances with outbursts at witnesses and staff, as well as tirades on social media.

– ‘Locked up’ –

The judge has already scheduled a hearing next week to consider whether Trump should be held in contempt for violating a partial gag order restricting him from attacking individuals connected to the case.

Jurors will remain anonymous to protect them from possible bribery or attack, though the selection process has already revealed much information about them, raising fears from some observers that they could be identified.

On Monday, more than half of the first batch of 96 candidates were excused after signaling they could not be impartial about one of the most polarizing men in the world.

Then on Tuesday, prospective jurors were grilled on their media consumption, political donations and education.

Trump appeared to eye those in the jury box as they each answered “yes” to a prosecutor’s question about whether they would be able to return a guilty verdict.

Candidates were then asked about their social media posts — with several slamming Trump read out to the court. One juror was struck for previously calling for Trump to be “locked up.”

If convicted, Trump would potentially face prison, but legal observers say fines would be more likely.

While the other three criminal trials are arguably weightier in content, Trump has succeeded in prompting continued delays, meaning they may not start before the November 5 election.