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NEW YORK: Former US President Donald Trump arrives back to Trump Tower after the first day of his trial in New York City on April 15, 2024. — AFP
NEW YORK: Former US President Donald Trump arrives back to Trump Tower after the first day of his trial in New York City on April 15, 2024. — AFP
Frustrated Trump vents on day two of historic trial

NEW YORK: A fuming Donald Trump began another day of jury selection in his historic criminal trial Tuesday, in stark contrast to his White House rival President Joe Biden who headed out to campaign in a key swing state. No other ex-president in US history has been hauled before a criminal court and the trial in an unglamorous Manhattan courthouse comes as scandal-plagued Trump is fighting to make a shock return to the White House in November.

Trump, 77, was angry as he arrived for the second day of proceedings in the trial, where he is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up reports on the eve of his 2016 election victory that he had an extramarital affair with a porn star.

Jury selection was expected to take as long as two weeks before lawyers even start to present their cases. “I should be right now in Pennsylvania and Florida — in many other states, North Carolina, Georgia — campaigning,” Trump said as he entered court. He called the presiding judge, Juan Merchan, “Trump hating.”

Trump has repeatedly described the hush money case in New York as a sham — or part of some far-reaching conspiracy in which Democrats are trying to stop him from taking on Biden. But reality set in for the hard-right Republican at the trial’s opening on Monday as Merchan issued the routine warning for criminal defendants that he will have to attend proceedings daily or face arrest. Meanwhile, Biden was due to tout his economic policies in a visit to his birthplace in Scranton, Pennsylvania on Tuesday — a key swing state Biden narrowly carried in the 2020 election.

Jury challenges

Merchan has also warned Trump against repeating his frequent past attempts to disrupt hearings with incendiary social media posts and courtroom outbursts. Illustrating the extraordinary nature of the proceedings, potential jurors have been told they will remain anonymous to the public throughout. Merchan said this is to protect them from possible bribery or physical harm.

But selecting 12 ordinary citizens to judge one of the most famous — and controversial — figures in the country is no easy matter. Of the first batch of 96 prospective panelists sworn in for screening on Monday, at least 50 were quickly excused after they said they could not be fair and impartial.

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.

Political risk

While the panel of prospective jurors filed in again Tuesday, Trump sat motionless, staring straight ahead. Trump 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 Biden. Those trials are arguably weightier in content, but Trump has succeeded in forcing continued delays, meaning they may not start before the November 5 election.

In New York, the Republican is accused of falsifying business records while covering up an alleged extramarital sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his first election campaign, in 2016, from last-minute upheaval.

Although the case is on relatively minor charges, the legal and political peril is all too real. Merchan has indicated he will maintain strict discipline, preventing Trump from turning his appearances into impromptu campaign rallies.

The judge has already scheduled a hearing next week to consider whether Trump should be held in contempt for violating a partial gag order restricting him from attacking individuals connected to the case. If convicted in the hush money case, Trump would potentially face prison, but legal observers say fines would be more likely. The maximum sentence would be four years for each count.

Regardless, the prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon throws an unprecedented wild card into an already unpredictable election. On top of it all, Trump said last week he wanted to testify — a risky option that most lawyers would want to avoid. — AFP

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