Former President Donald Trump was in court as jury selection began in his hush money criminal trial. Credit: Ed Quinn

Ex-President Donald Trump’s historic hush-money trial began Monday with jury selection in a Manhattan courthouse that will serve as the scene of an extraordinary criminal prosecution over the next several weeks — one that could have ramifications for the upcoming presidential election.

Trump, 77, who is making history as the first former or sitting president to be criminally prosecuted, arrived at the 15th floor of the courthouse at 9:30 a.m. for the first day of his trial in Manhattan Supreme Court on charges he falsified business records to hide hush-money payments to Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, in order to prevent the public disclosure of their alleged affair weeks before the 2016 presidential election.

“This is an assault on America, nothing like this has ever happened before, there’s never been anything like it,” said Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who stopped before a bank of news photographers, a pool camera and reporters posted in the hallway outside the courtroom to deride the case against him. “Every legal scholar said this case is nonsense, it should have never been brought, it doesn’t deserve anything like this. There is no case, and, I’ve said it, people that don’t necessarily follow or like Donald Trump said this is an outrage that this case was brought. This is political persecution. This is a persecution like never before.”

Jury selection finally began at 2:30 p.m., following a series of legal arguments and rulings by the presiding judge that took the entirety of the morning and early afternoon. After going through security screening, 96 potential jurors — all Manhattan residents — were led in the courtroom to begin the arduous process of seating a jury of 12 and six alternates.

The court is going to vet 500 prospective jurors in total. Jury selection continues Tuesday.

Trump, in a dark suit and his signature red tie, rose from his seat and turned around to acknowledge the potential jurors as State Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan, the presiding judge in the case, introduced him as the defendant. Trump offered a tight-lipped smirk before sitting back down at the defense table, where he was surrounded by his cadre of lawyers.

The proceeding took place amid extraordinary security. The Secret Service guarded the ex-president along with scores of court officers.

Some of the potential jurors, taking up almost every seat in the courtroom, strained their necks to get a glimpse of the ex-president. Others had more animated reactions: A woman seated in the second row from the back giggled with her hand over her mouth, while looking at the person seated next to her. One man turned and appeared to smile as he saw Trump.

Merchan swore in the potential jurors at 2:34 p.m. and ordered the names of all jurors would be kept secret, except to the defendant and the attorneys involved. The potential jurors represented a cross-section of Manhattan residents: native New Yorkers as well as transplants from as far as Texas and Ireland; a former waiter, a lawyer, a nurse.

“I feel that nobody is above the law, whether it be a former president or a sitting president or a janitor,” one potential juror, a man who lives on the Upper West Side, told the judge.

A majority of the potential jurors were immediately dismissed when Merchan asked the day’s million dollar question: whether they could be fair and impartial when considering the case against Trump? More than 50 of the would-be jurors raised their hands, signaling that they felt they could not consider only the evidence against Trump.

“I just couldn't do it,” said one woman, with short hair and apparently in her 30s, as she left.

The ex-president appeared engaged in the proceedings, talking frequently with his counsel. At times, he appeared to read juror questionnaires. He also sat through arguments about whether the contents of his infamous “Access Hollywood” recording — during which he said he grabbed women by their genitals and which threatened to blowup his 2016 presidential campaign — would be admissible at the trial, as the prosecution wished. The judge ruled it would not.

Merchan reiterated a past ruling preventing prosecutors from playing the highly controversial tape for the jury. He also barred prosecutors from introducing a video of a Trump deposition in which he addressed the tape.

“I remain convinced at this moment … that the tape should not come in,” Merchan said.

Merchan, however, said prosecutors could provide to the jury the contents of what Trump said in the tape and an email related to the tape.

Some media outlets, part of a pool of reporters including Newsday that has been assigned to provide rolling summaries of the court proceedings, reported that Trump appeared to be sleeping or had briefly nodded off at one point during the proceedings. But others noted that it was nearly impossible in the packed courtroom to determine whether Trump, who has for years reviled his political opponent with the moniker “Sleepy Joe,” was actually napping.

Trump, a Queens native, developer and reality TV star before he was elected president in 2016, is on trial for allegedly directing his personal attorney, Lawrence native Michael Cohen, to make a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels. Prosecutors have said the payment was illegally recorded as legal services as part of a retainer agreement, but neither the retainer nor the legal services existed.

The stakes are high for the ex-president, who faces up to 4 years in prison on each of the 34 counts, if convicted.

Before jury selection began, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued Trump’s recent attacks on potential witnesses, including calling Daniels and Cohen “sleazebags” violated Merchan’s limited gag order that prohibited Trump from speaking negatively about potential witnesses.

“The defendant himself has publicly embraced the public strategy of going after his perceived enemies,” Steinglass said.

Merchan set a hearing date of next Tuesday morning to determine whether Trump had violated the order. The prosecution argued Trump, who could face jail time if found to be in contempt of the judge’s order, should be fined $3,000.

Merchan also ruled the prosecution can introduce evidence about the National Enquirer and its alleged “catch and kill” schemes that allegedly worked in coordination with Trump’s campaign to help Trump keep his affairs secret and to make public negative pieces on his opponents, despite the defense’s objections.

“This evidence would do nothing but confuse the jury about the actual crime charged for several reasons,” said Trump’s lead defense attorney, Todd Blanche, describing the evidence as a “side show.”

Merchan also ruled that the prosecution can introduce evidence alleging that Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who has said she had an affair with Trump, was similarly paid off by the National Enquirer, at the behest of Trump. Blanche called it “literally just salacious with no value.” Merchan said the prosecution is not permitted to tell the jury that Melania Trump was pregnant with Barron at the time of the alleged affair.

In what legal experts described as a win for Trump, the judge signed off on a “hybrid” approach to jury selection proposed by defense attorneys and agreed to by the prosecution.

Potential jurors were initially asked separate questions about whether they had any scheduling conflicts with the trial, as well as whether they could be fair and impartial — the latter of which could help Trump wage an appeal if convicted.

Trump’s attorneys requested that jurors be asked separate questions — one about conflicts with the trial, and another on whether jurors identify as impartial or unbiased. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office did not object to the request.

Merchan also denied a defense motion for the judge to recuse himself from the case — the fourth such attempt by Trump’s legal team.

Merchan recited the defense’s reasoning for seeking the recusal, including Merchan doing interviews with a news outlet and a podcast. In one interview, the judge said he did not like politicians using Twitter. (Trump was once an avid user of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter before he was banned from the outlet; He later began his own platform, called “Truth Social.”)

Of the defense’s claims that Merchan should recuse himself because his daughter has worked at a consulting firm that works with Democratic candidates, the judge said: “To say that these claims are attenuated is an understatement.”

Merchan said he will not address the matter further.

After jurors were excused for the day, Trump was dealt another blow: He won’t be able to skip his trial next Thursday to attend arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court on whether Trump is immune from prosecution.

Merchan, however, has not yet ruled on whether he’ll give Trump a day off on May 17 to attend son Barron’s high school graduation.

“Arguing before the Supreme Court is a big deal, and I can certainly appreciate why your client would want to be there, but a trial in New York Supreme Court … is also a big deal,” Merchan said. “I will see him here next week.”

Ex-President Donald Trump’s historic hush-money trial began Monday with jury selection in a Manhattan courthouse that will serve as the scene of an extraordinary criminal prosecution over the next several weeks — one that could have ramifications for the upcoming presidential election.

Trump, 77, who is making history as the first former or sitting president to be criminally prosecuted, arrived at the 15th floor of the courthouse at 9:30 a.m. for the first day of his trial in Manhattan Supreme Court on charges he falsified business records to hide hush-money payments to Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, in order to prevent the public disclosure of their alleged affair weeks before the 2016 presidential election.

“This is an assault on America, nothing like this has ever happened before, there’s never been anything like it,” said Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who stopped before a bank of news photographers, a pool camera and reporters posted in the hallway outside the courtroom to deride the case against him. “Every legal scholar said this case is nonsense, it should have never been brought, it doesn’t deserve anything like this. There is no case, and, I’ve said it, people that don’t necessarily follow or like Donald Trump said this is an outrage that this case was brought. This is political persecution. This is a persecution like never before.”

Jury selection finally began at 2:30 p.m., following a series of legal arguments and rulings by the presiding judge that took the entirety of the morning and early afternoon. After going through security screening, 96 potential jurors — all Manhattan residents — were led in the courtroom to begin the arduous process of seating a jury of 12 and six alternates.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Ex-President Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial began Monday with jury selection in a Manhattan courthouse that will serve as the scene of an extraordinary criminal prosecution over the next several week.
  • Trump, 77, arrived at the 15th floor of the courthouse at 9:30 a.m. for the first day of his trial in Manhattan Supreme Court on charges that he falsified business records to hide hush money payments to adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, in order to prevent the public disclosure of their alleged affair weeks before the 2016 presidential election.
  • Prosecutors and defense attorneys began vetting some 500 prospective jurors to potentially serve on the panel. 

The court is going to vet 500 prospective jurors in total. Jury selection continues Tuesday.

Trump, in a dark suit and his signature red tie, rose from his seat and turned around to acknowledge the potential jurors as State Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan, the presiding judge in the case, introduced him as the defendant. Trump offered a tight-lipped smirk before sitting back down at the defense table, where he was surrounded by his cadre of lawyers.

The proceeding took place amid extraordinary security. The Secret Service guarded the ex-president along with scores of court officers.

Some of the potential jurors, taking up almost every seat in the courtroom, strained their necks to get a glimpse of the ex-president. Others had more animated reactions: A woman seated in the second row from the back giggled with her hand over her mouth, while looking at the person seated next to her. One man turned and appeared to smile as he saw Trump.

Merchan swore in the potential jurors at 2:34 p.m. and ordered the names of all jurors would be kept secret, except to the defendant and the attorneys involved. The potential jurors represented a cross-section of Manhattan residents: native New Yorkers as well as transplants from as far as Texas and Ireland; a former waiter, a lawyer, a nurse.

“I feel that nobody is above the law, whether it be a former president or a sitting president or a janitor,” one potential juror, a man who lives on the Upper West Side, told the judge.

A majority of the potential jurors were immediately dismissed when Merchan asked the day’s million dollar question: whether they could be fair and impartial when considering the case against Trump? More than 50 of the would-be jurors raised their hands, signaling that they felt they could not consider only the evidence against Trump.

“I just couldn't do it,” said one woman, with short hair and apparently in her 30s, as she left.

The ex-president appeared engaged in the proceedings, talking frequently with his counsel. At times, he appeared to read juror questionnaires. He also sat through arguments about whether the contents of his infamous “Access Hollywood” recording — during which he said he grabbed women by their genitals and which threatened to blowup his 2016 presidential campaign — would be admissible at the trial, as the prosecution wished. The judge ruled it would not.

Merchan reiterated a past ruling preventing prosecutors from playing the highly controversial tape for the jury. He also barred prosecutors from introducing a video of a Trump deposition in which he addressed the tape.

“I remain convinced at this moment … that the tape should not come in,” Merchan said.

Merchan, however, said prosecutors could provide to the jury the contents of what Trump said in the tape and an email related to the tape.

A person protesting President Trump squares off with a Trump...

A person protesting President Trump squares off with a Trump supporter, left, near Manhattan Criminal Court as jury selection begins in the hush money case against the former president on Monday in Manhattan. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Some media outlets, part of a pool of reporters including Newsday that has been assigned to provide rolling summaries of the court proceedings, reported that Trump appeared to be sleeping or had briefly nodded off at one point during the proceedings. But others noted that it was nearly impossible in the packed courtroom to determine whether Trump, who has for years reviled his political opponent with the moniker “Sleepy Joe,” was actually napping.

Trump, a Queens native, developer and reality TV star before he was elected president in 2016, is on trial for allegedly directing his personal attorney, Lawrence native Michael Cohen, to make a $130,000 hush-money payment to Daniels. Prosecutors have said the payment was illegally recorded as legal services as part of a retainer agreement, but neither the retainer nor the legal services existed.

The stakes are high for the ex-president, who faces up to 4 years in prison on each of the 34 counts, if convicted.

Before jury selection began, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued Trump’s recent attacks on potential witnesses, including calling Daniels and Cohen “sleazebags” violated Merchan’s limited gag order that prohibited Trump from speaking negatively about potential witnesses.

“The defendant himself has publicly embraced the public strategy of going after his perceived enemies,” Steinglass said.

Merchan set a hearing date of next Tuesday morning to determine whether Trump had violated the order. The prosecution argued Trump, who could face jail time if found to be in contempt of the judge’s order, should be fined $3,000.

Merchan also ruled the prosecution can introduce evidence about the National Enquirer and its alleged “catch and kill” schemes that allegedly worked in coordination with Trump’s campaign to help Trump keep his affairs secret and to make public negative pieces on his opponents, despite the defense’s objections.

“This evidence would do nothing but confuse the jury about the actual crime charged for several reasons,” said Trump’s lead defense attorney, Todd Blanche, describing the evidence as a “side show.”

Merchan also ruled that the prosecution can introduce evidence alleging that Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who has said she had an affair with Trump, was similarly paid off by the National Enquirer, at the behest of Trump. Blanche called it “literally just salacious with no value.” Merchan said the prosecution is not permitted to tell the jury that Melania Trump was pregnant with Barron at the time of the alleged affair.

In what legal experts described as a win for Trump, the judge signed off on a “hybrid” approach to jury selection proposed by defense attorneys and agreed to by the prosecution.

Potential jurors were initially asked separate questions about whether they had any scheduling conflicts with the trial, as well as whether they could be fair and impartial — the latter of which could help Trump wage an appeal if convicted.

Trump’s attorneys requested that jurors be asked separate questions — one about conflicts with the trial, and another on whether jurors identify as impartial or unbiased. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office did not object to the request.

Merchan also denied a defense motion for the judge to recuse himself from the case — the fourth such attempt by Trump’s legal team.

Merchan recited the defense’s reasoning for seeking the recusal, including Merchan doing interviews with a news outlet and a podcast. In one interview, the judge said he did not like politicians using Twitter. (Trump was once an avid user of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter before he was banned from the outlet; He later began his own platform, called “Truth Social.”)

Of the defense’s claims that Merchan should recuse himself because his daughter has worked at a consulting firm that works with Democratic candidates, the judge said: “To say that these claims are attenuated is an understatement.”

Merchan said he will not address the matter further.

After jurors were excused for the day, Trump was dealt another blow: He won’t be able to skip his trial next Thursday to attend arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court on whether Trump is immune from prosecution.

Merchan, however, has not yet ruled on whether he’ll give Trump a day off on May 17 to attend son Barron’s high school graduation.

“Arguing before the Supreme Court is a big deal, and I can certainly appreciate why your client would want to be there, but a trial in New York Supreme Court … is also a big deal,” Merchan said. “I will see him here next week.”

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