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Takeaways from the first day of the Trump hush money trial


CNN

By Jeremy Herb, Kara Scannell and Kaanita Iyer, CNN

(CNN) — The first criminal trial of former President Donald Trump is here.

The opening day of the first criminal trial of a former US president began Monday, hitting home the reality that the presumptive Republican nominee for president will be sitting in a Manhattan courtroom as a defendant four days a week.

Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, sat alongside his three attorneys as jury selection began, watching them debate prosecutors over what evidence could be admitted and passing notes as they spoke.

Choosing a roster of 12 jurors who can decide Trump’s fate will be difficult, as more than 50 people immediately were dismissed when they said they couldn’t be fair and impartial. The undertaking will continue Tuesday, with potential jurors asked to answer questions that could indicate their political views as part of an exhaustive process that could stretch beyond the trial’s first week.

Trump did little talking inside the courtroom Monday. But his incendiary rhetoric was once again at issue, with a new call from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for Judge Juan Merchan to sanction Trump for violating the judge’s gag order.

Here are the key takeaways from day one of “The People of the State of New York vs Donald Trump.”

More than half of first batch of prospective jurors say they can’t be fair and impartial

Merchan brought in 96 New Yorkers as prospective jurors. More than half were quickly dismissed because they said they did not think they could be fair and impartial.

The swift dismissal of the prospective jury pool underscores the difficulty in picking a jury when the defendant is a former president who elicits strong feelings on both sides of the aisle.

Trump has complained that he cannot get a fair jury in Manhattan, where the jurors must live. Among the jurors that stayed, most said they could be fair and impartial in this case.

But as the judge began having jurors answer 40 questions about their backgrounds, media they consume and whether they have strong feelings about Trump, one more potential juror was weeded out.

The woman answered yes to question 34: Do you have any strong opinions or firmly 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?”

Merchan stopped her questioning and asked whether the lawyers had any objection to dismissing her. After a brief sidebar she was thanked for her service and dismissed.

“I just couldn’t do it,” the juror was heard saying in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Among the other nine potential jurors who were questioned, none said they had read any books written by either Trump or Michael Cohen. And none had said they’d worked or volunteered for Trump.

Defense wants to slow things down

After months of appeals to delay the start of the trial, the defense is now looking to slow down the legal proceedings as the November elections near.

Sources told CNN’s Paula Reid that there will likely be many objections and sidebars during the trial because the defense is completely focused on preserving every issue for appeal.

For instance, jury selection is already expected to last a week but on Monday Trump attorney Todd Blanche requested more time to question potential jurors. Blanche asked for 30 minutes for the first round of questions and 20 minutes for subsequent rounds – double the usual time – and the judge and DA’s office agreed.

Blanche also attempted to raise problems with the current system of requiring a pre-motion letter 48 hours before filing motions, which Merchan said is in place “because we were being absolutely inundated with motions, many of which frankly were close to frivolous if not frivolous” — an apparent dig at the recent motions filed by Trump attorneys.

These tactics fit the larger Trump legal strategy, which included months of appeals to delay the start of the trial, which was successful on separate grounds. The defense now hopes legal proceedings, which are expected to last six to eight weeks, move at a slow pace with the 2024 election just months away.

DA’s office accuses Trump of violating gag order, wants him fined $3,000

Prosecutors asked Merchan to sanction Trump for violating the gag order prohibiting him from talking about witnesses in the case, the DA’s office or court staff.

Chris Conroy asked to hold Trump in contempt for violating the gag order and sanction Trump $1,000 for each of three social media posts he made that they say violate the order.

“We think that it is important for the court to remind Mr. Trump that he is a criminal defendant,” Conroy said. “And like all criminal defendants he’s subject to court supervision.”

One of Trump’s posts on Truth Social called eventual trial witness Michael Cohen his “SleazeBag former attorney,” and in another he re-posted Stormy Daniels’ letter from 2018 denying an affair with Trump, which she has since rescinded.

A third was a re-post from former Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti criticizing Cohen and Daniels. The post on X accused them of making money on “bogus documentaries” and TV interviews.

Trump on Monday morning also shared a New York Post story, quoting from the story: “A serial perjurer will try to prove an old misdemeanor against Trump in an embarrassment for the New York legal system.”

Merchan scheduled a hearing on the district attorney’s motion for next Tuesday.

This isn’t the first time Trump has been scrutinized for his social media posts. He was fined twice for violating a gag order imposed by New York Judge Arthur Engoron in his civil fraud trial.

“Access Hollywood” tape can’t be played, but actress can testify

Merchan made several key rulings that may frame how the case is presented, delivering wins for both sides.

Aside from refusing to recuse himself from the case, the judge sided with prosecutors in allowing Karen McDougal, an actress and model who alleged she also had an affair with Trump, to testify. Prosecutors can also introduce National Enquirer stories slamming Trump’s opponents as evidence.

American Media Inc. agreed to pay McDougal $150,000 five months before the 2016 election for her silence about allegations of an affair with Trump, according to prosecutors. Trump has denied the affair. This payment is not part of the charges against Trump, but prosecutors have said that the testimony would help establish a pattern of payments.

A key victory for Trump, meanwhile, was Merchan ruling that the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape can’t be played in court, saying it was prejudicial. Prosecutors also will not be allowed to bring up other sexual assault allegations against Trump that surfaced after the “Access Hollywood tape” was made public in October 2016.

“They are very prejudicial, and at this point, given what we know today, it was just a rumor,” Merchan said.

Merchan also denied prosecutors’ request to show E. Jean Carroll’s deposition from her defamation case against Trump because it would be “building in a trial into a trial.”

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