Berliner Tageblatt - Trump jury set for opening statements

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Trump jury set for opening statements
Trump jury set for opening statements / Photo: © POOL/AFP

Trump jury set for opening statements

Donald Trump's unprecedented criminal trial is set for opening statements next week after final jury selection ended Friday, leaving the Republican presidential candidate facing weeks of hostile testimony that will overshadow his White House campaign.

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The milestone on Friday in the first criminal trial of a former or sitting US president coincided with a man setting himself on fire outside the Manhattan courthouse.

The self-immolation did not appear to have anything to do with Trump's case. Authorities said the man was in hospital in critical condition and had been carrying pamphlets referring to an unrelated conspiracy theory.

The full jury of 12 New Yorkers and six alternates had just been completed when the incident occurred on the street outside the building where the ex-president and Republican candidate for November sat on the 15th floor.

Judge Juan Merchan has said that opening statements in Trump's trial would start Monday.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of business fraud as part of a plan to cover up hush money paid to a porn star so that the story would not come out just before the 2016 presidential election, in which he beat Hillary Clinton.

- Impartial jury? -

The difficulty of choosing impartial jurors, who must also be able to set aside as much as two months of their time, has been clear throughout the selection process this week.

Two women in the pool of dozens of ordinary New Yorkers being vetted for the final jury slots Friday burst into tears as they answered probing questions from attorneys.

"I'm sorry. I thought I could do this," said one who was quickly released by Merchan. "This is so much more stressful than I thought it was going to be."

Trump delivered an angry statement in the morning about what he called the "very unfair" partial gag order imposed by Merchan to prevent him from using his powerful media presence to attack witnesses, prosecutors and relatives of court staff.

"The judge has to take off this gag order," said Trump, who has a long history, including while president, of making threatening or insulting statements against private and public opponents.

On departure, he again called his trial a "giant witch hunt."

The court proceedings have disrupted Trump's 2024 campaign, but he has tried to use the press coverage to relay his claim to be the victim of a "hoax." On Saturday, he will hold a rally in North Carolina.

The Republican tycoon faces three other criminal cases, including on far more serious charges of attempting to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden, but these have been repeatedly delayed.

- Tight race against Biden -

Trump has framed his multiple legal woes as an attempt by his political opponents to thwart his bid to return to power. Latest polls show him largely neck and neck with Biden.

In the trial in New York, Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying business records on the eve of his 2016 election victory to hide an alleged sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels.

Potential jurors were this week grilled by prosecutors and defense attorneys about their media habits, political donations, education and whether they have attended a pro- or anti-Trump rally.

Many potential panelists were excused after saying they could not be objective.

One juror who had already been sworn in was excused because she had concerns her identity had been revealed, and another was let go following doubts about the accuracy of his answers during questioning.

To protect the anonymity of those randomly selected for jury service, Merchan asked reporters to stop providing physical descriptions of jurors and not to identify where they work.

A unanimous verdict will be required to convict Trump, who has been ordered by the judge to attend each day of the trial.

If convicted, he could face prison but would more likely be fined.

K.Thomson--BTB