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Jury selection starts at Trump’s landmark criminal trial in New York

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“The prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon throws an unprecedented wild card into an already unpredictable Nov. 5 election”

NEW YORK – Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial opened Monday (Tuesday in Manila) in a historic first for a US ex-president — and a seismic twist to an already explosive 2024 election where the Republican is seeking to defy multiple scandals and return to power.

Trump has repeatedly described the hush money case as a sham.

But reality set in for the 77-year-old, hard-right Republican as Judge Juan Merchan issued the routine warning for criminal defendants that he will have to attend proceedings in the gritty Manhattan courthouse daily — or face arrest.

Merchan also warned Trump against repeating his frequent past attempts to disrupt hearings with incendiary social media posts and courtroom outbursts.

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

Selection of 12 jurors —  given anonymity to protect them from what the judge says is risk of bribery or even physical harm — is expected to be a tortuous process.

Of the first batch of 96 prospective panelists sworn in, at least 50 were quickly excused after they said they could not be fair and impartial in a case involving one of the most famous — and controversial — men in the world.

Nine others were allowed to leave after stating there were compelling reasons they could not serve, while remaining prospective jurors were grilled about their education, hobbies and news consumption.

The process, which will resume Tuesday at 1330 GMT, could go on as long as two weeks, according to one of Trump’s lawyers.

Merchan also indicated opposition to allowing Trump to be out of court next Thursday, when the US Supreme Court will hear his claims of presidential immunity in another, unrelated case.

“It’s a scam. It’s a political witch hunt,” Trump said leaving court Monday. “We’ve got a real problem with this judge.”

The Republican presidential candidate is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged extramarital sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his first election campaign, in 2016, from last-minute upheaval.

He faces three other criminal cases centered on his hoarding of top-secret documents after leaving office and his unprecedented attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.

All morning Monday, lawyers for both sides in the case wrangled with Merchan over admissible evidence.

Trump, shoulders hunched, stared sternly straight ahead or looked down at the computer alongside his legal team. According to The New York Times reporter sitting close to Trump, he at times appeared to doze, head drooping.

The judge ruled against allowing prosecutors to play the jury the infamous Access Hollywood recording that rocked Trump’s 2016 campaign in which he can be heard boasting that famous men can “grab” women by their genitals because “they let you do it.”

However, the contents of the recording — which prosecutors see as key in motivating Trump to pay to bury news reports about Stormy Daniel — can be introduced as evidence.

Prosecutors also demanded that Trump be fined for violating the gag order imposed earlier by Merchan to try and get the ex-president to stop attacking potential witnesses and others in the courtroom on social media.

Wearing his trademark red tie, white shirt and blue suit, Trump struck a defiant tone on arrival at the courthouse, telling a throng of journalists that his trial was an “assault on America.”

Outside, at a small but noisy pro-Trump protest, the former commander in chief’s supporters shouted obscenities about Biden and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the lead prosecutor.

One Trump backer flew a flag proclaiming “Trump or death.”

If convicted in the hush money case, Trump would potentially face years in prison, but legal observers consider that fines would be more likely. The maximum sentences would be four years in prison for each count.

Regardless, the prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon throws an unprecedented wild card into an already unpredictable Nov. 5 election.

Trump said last week he wanted to testify, a risky option.

Would-be jurors are answering a detailed questionnaire including checks on whether they have been members of far-right groups associated with Trump.

The actual charges, however, revolve around highly technical finance laws.

Trump was indicted in March 2023 over the payments made to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, with the ex-president charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records.

Trump denies the charges and says the encounter with Clifford and another with a Playboy nude model, whose story he also allegedly covered up, did not happen.

Trump’s other three criminal cases all face multiple delays.

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