The Latest | First day of Trump's hush money trial adjourns with no jurors selected

Former President Donald Trump's motorcade leaves the Criminal Courthouse via the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York on Monday, April 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)
Original Publication Date April 15, 2024 - 7:21 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — The first day of Donald Trump 's historic hush money trial ended Monday after hours of pretrial motions and an initial jury selection process that saw dozens of prospective jurors excused after they said they could not be fair or impartial. The court ultimately adjourned without any jurors being seated, with the selection process resuming on Tuesday.

The process involves selecting 12 jurors, plus six alternates. Trump’s notoriety would make that a near-herculean task in any year, but the process is especially challenging now — unfolding as Trump vies to reclaim the White House during a hotly contested presidential election year and in the city where he grew up.

The trial’s start marks an extraordinary moment in American history — it’s the first criminal trial of any former U.S. commander-in-chief and the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial.

Trump is accused of falsifying internal Trump Organization records as part of a scheme to bury stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign, particularly as his reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.

The allegations focus on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock. Trump says none of these supposed sexual encounters occurred.

Currently:

— Here’s what to know about the hush money case

— How a hush money scandal tied to a porn star led to Trump’s first criminal trial

— A jury of his peers: A look at how jury selection will work in Donald Trump’s first criminal trial

— Tracking the criminal and civil cases against Donald Trump

Here is the latest:

JUDGE: TRUMP CAN'T SKIP TRIAL TO ATTEND SCOTUS ARGUMENTS NEXT WEEK

Judge Juan M. Merchan on Monday declined a request from Donald Trump's lawyers to take April 25 off from the hush money trial to allow the former president to attend U.S. Supreme Court arguments on his claim of presidential immunity in another of his four criminal cases.

Defense lawyer Todd Blanche said Trump’s situation deserved accommodation. “It’s not very often that you have someone who has multiple criminal indictments at the same time,” he added.

Merchan said that as a criminal defendant, Trump “is required to be here. He is not required to be at the Supreme Court.”

In response, Trump rolled his eyes, scowled and stood up to leave, as court was adjourning for the day.

MAN EXCUSED FROM JURY PANEL TO ALLOW HIM TO ATTEND HIS CHILD'S JUNE WEDDING

In a tender moment Monday afternoon, Judge Juan M. Merchan preemptively excused a man from jury selection for Donald Trump's hush money trial rather than forcing him to possibly miss his child’s wedding on the West Coast in June.

The middle-aged man raised the issue as he was about to answer the jury questionnaire.

“I think we should be done by then but I can’t promise,” Merchan told the man. “Only you can decide if you want to roll the dice. But if you’re with us, you’re with us ’til the end.”

As the man contemplated the potential conflict, Merchan offered to let him go. “I think, to be on the safe side, we should excuse,” Merchan said. “Congratulations,” the judge added, wishing him well on his child’s impending nuptials as he exited the jury box.

OVER HALF OF FIRST GROUP OF POTENTIAL JURORS EXCUSED AFTER SAYING THEY CAN’T BE FAIR, IMPARTIAL

More than half of the first group of prospective jurors in Donald Trump's hush money case were excused after telling the judge they couldn’t be fair and impartial. At least nine more prospective jurors were excused after raising their hands when Judge Juan M. Merchan asked if they could not serve for any other reason. Those reasons were not disclosed.

It’s not unusual for potential jurors to want to be excused for a variety of reasons, including having strong feelings about the defendant.

To make the trial more efficient, Merchan said he would prefer to dismiss jurors immediately if they indicated, at the start, that they couldn’t be fair and impartial. That’s a departure from a more common practice of questioning jurors more closely, individually, to see if their claimed lack of impartiality was true.

Trump’s lawyers have argued to an appeals court that he cannot find a fair and impartial jury in Manhattan and therefore the case should be moved elsewhere.

Roughly 100 other potential jurors waited to be called into the courtroom late Monday afternoon. Merchan has said a total of about 200 jurors are in the courthouse for possible selection.

JUROR QUESTIONNAIRE ASKS ABOUT NEWS HABITS, HOBBIES AND MORE

A randomly selected group of 18 prospective jurors in Donald Trump's hush money trial on Monday afternoon began sifting through a litany of preselected questions, touching on their educational backgrounds, news habits, hobbies and ability to be neutral.

Both of the first two prospective jurors said they lived in midtown Manhattan, had never attended a Trump rally and felt they could be impartial.

On a question about whether she had any strong beliefs about the former president, the first respondent paused briefly, then said, “No.”

As the jurors ticked through the list of questions, Trump held a stapled stack of papers close to his face, appearing to follow along with the answers.

JURORS TO BE SELECTED FROM POOL OF NEARLY 200 PEOPLE

Jury selection in Donald Trump's hush money trial began Monday afternoon with an explanation of the case from Judge Juan M. Merchan and the duties of jurors during the trial.

“The jury’s responsibility is to evaluate the testimony and all of the evidence presented at the trial. The trial is the opportunity for you to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty,” he said.

Some of the 96 prospective panelists craned their necks to get a look at Trump as they were seated in the back of the courtroom. One giggled and put her hand over her mouth, raising her eyebrows as she exchanged a glance with her neighbor.

About 100 other potential jurors were waiting elsewhere in the building ahead of defense and prosecution efforts to winnow the overall group down to just over a dozen people.

Trump, meanwhile, looked straight ahead, expressionless, with his head slightly cocked to the side.

Outside the courthouse, crowds had dwindled to just over a dozen people. Earlier in the day, dozens of the former president’s supporters had waved flags with slogans like “Trump or Death” and “Trump 2024 Save America.”

Twenty-one-year-old Jay Finkle, a native New Yorker, said he voted for Trump in 2020 and the charges against him don’t affect his plans to vote for him again. “Yeah, this doesn’t matter at all,” he said.

JURY SELECTION UNDERWAY AFTER HOURS OF PRETRIAL ARGUMENTS

Jury selection in Donald Trump's hush money trial got underway with a group of 96 prospective jurors filing into court mid-afternoon on Monday.

The selection marked the start of the trial and an extraordinary moment in U.S. history. It’s the first criminal trial of any former U.S. commander-in-chief and the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial.

The names of all jurors will be kept secret, except to the legal parties. During selection, prospective jurors will be referred to by an assigned number rather than their names.

Twelve jurors and six alternates will be chosen to hear the case. Judge Merchan has written that the key in choosing a juror is “whether the prospective juror can assure us that they will set aside any personal feelings or biases and render a decision that is based on the evidence and the law.”

Merchan said once the panel is finalized, he will get two lists: one containing the jurors’ numbers, the other containing their names and their numbers. The judge said he will then give one copy of each list to the prosecution and one copy of each list to Trump’s defense team.

The lists are “not to be photographed or duplicated, in any way copied in any way shape or form,” Merchan warned.

MERCHAN TO HOLD HEARING NEXT WEEK ON PROSECUTORS' REQUEST TO FINE TRUMP

The judge overseeing Donald Trump's hush money trial will hold a hearing April 24 on prosecutors’ request to fine Trump $3,000 over three social media posts that they say violated the judge’s gag order barring him from attacking witnesses.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said Trump’s lawyers have until April 19 to file their written response. Trump’s lawyer has said the former president’s comments did not violate the gag order.

The gag order bars Trump from commenting publicly about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff and jurors.

BOMB THREATS UNDER INVESTIGATION

Police are investigating a bomb threat at the home of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg from Monday morning. A police spokesperson said a 911 caller reported the threat shortly before 9 a.m.

Another bomb threat made to the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was unfounded and there was no disruption to service, a library spokesperson said.

PROSECUTORS ASK JUDGE TO FINE TRUMP $3K OVER SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS ABOUT WITNESSES

Prosecutors have asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to fine Donald Trump $3,000 over three social media posts they say violated a gag order that bars Trump from commenting on witnesses.

The gag order, imposed March 26, bars the ex-president from commenting publicly about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff and jurors. It was later expanded to bar him from talking publicly about relatives of the judge and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, though Trump is free to speak about the officials themselves. Trump’s attorneys are fighting the order in an appeals court.

Last week, Trump used his Truth Social platform to call two important witnesses — his former lawyer Michael Cohen and the adult film actor Stormy Daniels — “two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!”

Prosecutors also called for Trump to be ordered to take down the “offending” posts.

“The defendant has demonstrated his willingness to flout the order. He’s attacked witnesses in the case,” said Christopher Conroy, one of the trial prosecutors.

One of Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche, maintained that the three posts in question don’t violate the gag order. He said Trump was just responding to the witnesses’ own public statements.

JUDGE BLOCKS DETAIL OF McDOUGAL'S STORY AND PLAYING OF ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD TAPE'

Judge Juan M. Merchan on Monday agreed to bar prosecutors from eliciting testimony to the effect that Donald Trump’s wife Melania was pregnant while former Playboy model Karen McDougal claimed to have had an affair with him.

Prosecutors can still tell jurors about alleged efforts to suppress McDougal’s story.

McDougal was paid $150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about her alleged 10-month affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. Trump has denied any affair took place.

The charges in the case pertain only to $130,000 in hush money payments made, through Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen, to porn actor Stormy Daniels. She alleged a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

But prosecutors also plan to bring up McDougal’s claims and payment, arguing that it’s important context for what they have called a scheme “to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information” about Trump.

Merchan on Monday also blocked playing of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump described grabbing women sexually without their permission. But Merchan said prosecutors will be able to present internal campaign emails that Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said contained “powerful evidence of the campaign’s reaction to the incendiary language contained” in the video.

MERCHAN DENIES REQUEST TO EXPAND JUROR QUESTIONNAIRE

Shortly after court convened Monday, Donald Trump’s attorneys asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to expand the already extensive questionnaire filled out by prospective jurors to weed out people who oppose the former president. Merchan declined the request, dismissing the notion that the jury questions were slanted to the benefit of prosecutors.

Over the coming days, the defense and the prosecution will both jockey for potential advantages as a jury pool of regular people is winnowed down to a panel of 12, plus six alternates.

“There is no asymmetry in the questionnaire when looked through the lens of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Merchan said. “This is by far the most exhaustive questionnaire this court has ever used,” he added.

JUDGE TO ALLOW INTRODUCTION OF EVIDENCE ABOUT NATIONAL ENQUIRER PLOY

The National Enquirer helped boost former President Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy by identifying and suppressing negative stories — a practice known as “catch and kill.”

Judge Merchan said on Monday that such material would be permitted under a state law allowing evidence of alleged prior bad acts.

Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen met with ex-National Enquirer publisher David Pecker at Trump Tower in August 2015 to discuss the supermarket tabloid’s role in helping his presidential run. Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told the judge the meeting was the root of a scheme to suppress three potentially damaging stories about Trump, including porn actor Stormy Daniels’ claims she had a sexual encounter with him in 2006.

Steinglass said the evidence will show that Trump approved, rejected or suggested changes to flattering National Enquirer stories about him and stories attacking his 2016 Republican primary opponents that were “timed perfectly to achieve maximum impact.”

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche argued the evidence “would do nothing but confuse the jury about the actual crime charged.”

MERCHAN REJECTS ANOTHER REQUEST TO RECUSE HIMSELF

As the court day started, Judge Juan M. Merchan turned down a request that Donald Trump's lawyers had filed asking the judge to recuse himself — a move they also unsuccessfully made earlier in the case.

The Trump legal team pointed largely to the judge’s daughter’s work as a political consultant whose firm has worked for prominent Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that the daughter’s job represents a conflict of interest for Merchan, and they also claimed she had posted an image of Trump behind bars on social media. The court system said she had closed the social media account before the photo was posted.

Trump’s attorneys also argued that an interview Merchan gave to The Associated Press last month violated judicial rules about not making out-of-court comments about a pending case.

The article, which largely concerned Merchan’s oversight of Manhattan’s mental health court, reported that he declined to discuss the Trump case but said preparations for the historic trial were “intense.”

Merchan added that he was striving “to make sure that I’ve done everything I could to be prepared and to make sure that we dispense justice,” emphasizing his confidence in court staffers.

“There’s no agenda here,” the judge said in the interview. “We want to follow the law. We want justice to be done.”

TRUMP'S LAWYERS REQUEST DAYS OFF TO ATTEND HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATIONS

Donald Trump’s lawyers have requested that the trial not be held on May 17 so that the former president may attend his son Barron’s high school graduation. A Trump lawyer has also requested the trial not be held June 3 so that he could attend his own son’s graduation.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said he was not prepared to rule on either request, but that if the trial proceeds as planned he’s willing to adjourn for one or both days.

“It really depends on how we’re doing on time and where we are in the trial,” Merchan said.

LIVESTREAM OF PROCEEDINGS LIMITED TO ONE ROOM IN COURTHOUSE

Only one room can watch a livestream of the proceedings in Donald Trump's hush money case — and it’s in the courthouse.

A pair of video monitors are airing the proceeding to an overflow room adjacent to the main courtroom. The room was packed Monday morning with press, court officers and a few members of the public.

Among the attendees was prominent Trump critic and attorney George Conway, who is reporting for The Atlantic. Conway was married to Kellyanne Conway while she served as a senior presidential adviser in the Trump White House.

Ron Sinibaldi, a former accountant from Long Island, said he began lining up at the courthouse just before midnight to ensure he could get inside “for the historic day.”

“I read presidential biographies, I go to presidential libraries, I’m here for the history,” Sinibaldi said. “If they were doing this to Jimmy Carter, I’d be here too.”

MEDIA OUTNUM

BER TRUMP SUPPORTERS OUTSIDE COURTHOUSE

Donald Trump supporters rallied outside the courthouse Monday morning ahead of the start of Trump's hush money trial, but members of the media outnumbered them.

Dozens of Trump supporters were outside the courthouse and roughly 40 other individuals were there protesting against the former president.

One group of demonstrators carried a banner that read, “No one is above the law.”

Another group chanted that the judge overseeing Trump’s trial, Juan M. Merchan, should recuse himself. Trump had unsuccessfully pushed for the judge to remove himself from the case.

TRUMP CONTINUES TO PAINT HIMSELF AS A VICTIM AHEAD OF TRIAL

In the hours before Donald Trump’s expected arrival at the courthouse, his campaign continued to telegraph how they intend to characterize the trial.

At 6 a.m., the former president’s campaign issued a lengthy press release attacking Bragg as “George Soros’s Favorite DA” and labeling the historic proceedings as “The NY Biden Trial.” It’s another indication of how Trump has and will continue to personally vilify those who have brought the case, painting himself as the victim of a politically motivated effort by his rivals to tarnish his candidacy.

Trump has been busy posting on his Truth Social platform this morning, blasting the trial as “rigged” and complaining about the gag order that he has been placed under.

“I want my VOICE back. This Crooked Judge has GAGGED me. Unconstitutional! The other side can talk about me, but I am not allowed to talk about them! Rigged Trial!” he posted.


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