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Trump arrives at court for the start of jury selection in his historic hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump arrived at a New York court Monday for the start of jury selection in his hush money trial, marking a unique moment in American history as former president and current White House hopefuls answer criminal charges.

It is the first criminal trial against a former US commander in chief and the first of four charges against Trump to come to trial. Because he is also the presumptive nominee for this year’s Republican ticket, the trial will present the dizzying split-screen of a presidential candidate who spends his days in court and, he has said, “campaigning at night.”

There may be some legal arguments and housekeeping before jury selection begins. If that is the case, dozens of people will be called into the courtroom to start the process to find 12 jurors, plus six alternates.

Trump’s prominence would make the process of choosing a jury a nearly herculean task each year, but it is likely to be particularly challenging now as it unfolds in a closely contested presidential election in the city where Trump grew up and rises to the status of celebrity was catapulted before he won the election. White House.

Judge Juan M. Merchan has written that the key is “whether the prospective juror can assure us that they will put aside any personal feelings or prejudices and make a decision based on the evidence and the law.”

The trial amounts to a historic courtroom reckoning for Trump, whose norm-shattering presidency was overshadowed by investigations from start to finish and who now faces four separate indictments accusing him of crimes ranging from hoarding classified documents to plotting to overturn elections.

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Yet the political stakes are less clear, since a conviction would not prevent him from becoming president and because the allegations in this case have been known to the public for years and are seen as less serious than the conduct behind the three other cases against him .

Regardless of the outcome, Trump wants to take advantage of the proceedings and present himself as the victim of politically motivated prosecutions designed to derail his candidacy. He has criticized judges and prosecutors for years, a pattern of attacks that continued until he appeared in court on Monday, when he said: “This is political persecution. This is a persecution like never before.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying company records.

Prosecutors say he tried to cover up an alleged effort during his 2016 campaign to cover up salacious — and, he says, false — stories about his sex life.

The indictment concerns $130,000 in payments Trump’s company made to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen. He had paid that amount on behalf of Trump to prevent porn actor Stormy Daniels from going public a month before the election with her claims about a sexual encounter with the married mogul ten years earlier.

Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen were falsely recorded as legal fees to disguise their true purpose. Trump’s lawyers say the payouts were indeed legal fees and not a cover-up.

Trump himself has characterized the case, and his charges elsewhere, as a broad “weaponization of law enforcement” by Democratic prosecutors and officials. He claims they are orchestrating sham charges in hopes of hindering his presidential run.

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After decades of filing and initiating lawsuits, the businessman-turned-politician now faces a trial that could result in up to four years in prison if convicted, although a no-jail sentence would also be possible.

The trial of an ex-president and current candidate is a moment of extraordinary gravity for the American political system, but also for Trump himself. Such a scenario would once have seemed unthinkable to many Americans, even a president whose tenure has left a trail of shattered norms, including two impeachments and acquittals by the Senate.

The courtroom scene may be greeted with a spectacle outside. When Trump was indicted last year, police broke up minor skirmishes between his supporters and protesters near the courthouse in a small park where a local Republican group has planned a pro-Trump rally on Monday.

Trump’s lawyers lost a bid to have the hush money case dismissed and have since repeatedly tried to delay it, prompting a flurry of last-minute hearings in the appeals court last week.

Trump’s lawyers claim, among other things, that the jury in predominantly Democratic Manhattan has been tainted by negative publicity about Trump and that the case should be moved elsewhere.

An appeals judge has rejected an emergency request to delay the trial, while the request for a change of venue goes to a group of appeals judges, who will consider it in the coming weeks.

Prosecutors in Manhattan have countered that much of the publicity stems from Trump’s own comments and that asking questions will show whether future jurors can set aside any biases. According to prosecutors, there is no reason to believe that there cannot be twelve honest and impartial people among Manhattan’s roughly 1.4 million adult residents.

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The process of choosing those 12, plus six alternates, will begin with dozens of people reporting to Merchan’s courtroom. They will be known only by numbers because he has ordered their names kept secret from everyone except prosecutors, Trump and their legal teams.

After hearing some basics about the case and jury service, potential jurors are asked to raise their hands if they believe they cannot serve or be fair and impartial. Those who do will be excused, according to Merchan’s filing last week.

The rest are eligible for questioning. The 42 pre-approved, sometimes multi-part searches include background information, but also reflect the unique nature of the case.

“Do you have any strong opinions or held beliefs about former President Donald Trump, or the fact that he is a current candidate for president, that would interfere with your ability to be a fair and impartial juror?” asks one question.

Others ask about attending Trump or anti-Trump rallies, opinions on how he is being treated in the case, news sources and more — including any “political, moral, intellectual or religious beliefs or opinions” that might influence a prospective juror’s view could ‘confuse’. approach to the matter.

Based on the answers, the attorneys can ask a judge to eliminate people “for cause” if they meet certain criteria of being unable to serve or being unbiased. The attorneys can also use “peremptory recusals” to exclude 10 potential jurors and two potential alternates without giving a reason.

“If you start hitting everyone who is a Republican or a Democrat,” the judge noted during a hearing in February, “very quickly you will run out of compelling challenges.”

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