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Jury Selections Kicks Off Trump Trial  04/15 06:22

   In a singular moment for American history, the hush money trial of former 
President Donald Trump begins Monday with jury selection.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- In a singular moment for American history, the hush money 
trial of former President Donald Trump begins Monday with jury selection.

   It's the first criminal trial of a former commander in chief and the first 
of Trump's four indictments to go to trial. Because Trump is the presumptive 
nominee for this year's Republican ticket, the trial will also produce the 
head-spinning split-screen of a presidential candidate spending his days in 
court and, he has said, "campaigning during the night."

   And to some extent, it is a trial of the justice system itself as it 
grapples with a defendant who has used his enormous prominence to assail the 
judge, his daughter, the district attorney, some witnesses and the allegations 
-- all while blasting the legitimacy of a legal structure that he insists has 
been appropriated by his political opponents.

   Against that backdrop, scores of ordinary citizens are due to be called 
Monday into a cavernous room in a utilitarian courthouse to determine whether 
they can serve, fairly and impartially, on the jury.

   "The ultimate issue is whether the prospective jurors 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," Judge Juan M. Merchan wrote in an April 
8 filing.

   Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business 
records as part of an alleged effort to keep salacious -- and, he says, bogus 
-- stories about his sex life from emerging during his 2016 campaign.

   The charges center on $130,000 in payments that Trump's company made to his 
then-lawyer, Michael Cohen. He paid that sum on Trump's behalf to keep porn 
actor Stormy Daniels from going public, a month before the election, with her 
claims of a sexual encounter with the married mogul a decade earlier.

   Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen were falsely logged as legal fees in 
order to cloak their actual purpose. Trump's lawyers say the disbursements 
indeed were legal expenses, not a cover-up.

   Trump himself casts the case, and his other indictments elsewhere, as a 
broad "weaponization of law enforcement" by Democratic prosecutors and 
officials. He maintains they are orchestrating sham charges in hopes of 
impeding his presidential run.

   After decades of fielding and initiating lawsuits, the 
businessman-turned-politician now faces a trial that could result in up to four 
years in prison if he's convicted, though a no-jail sentence also would be 
possible.

   Regardless of the eventual outcome, the trial of an ex-president and current 
candidate is a moment of extraordinary gravity for the American political 
system, as well as for Trump himself. Such a scenario would have once seemed 
unthinkable to many Americans, even for a president whose tenure left a trail 
of shattered norms, including twice being impeached and acquitted by the Senate.

   The scene inside the courtroom may be greeted with a spectacle outside. When 
Trump was arraigned last year, police broke up small skirmishes between his 
supporters and protesters near the courthouse in a tiny park, where a local 
Republican group has planned a pro-Trump rally Monday.

   Trump's attorneys lost a bid to get the hush money case dismissed and have 
since repeatedly sought to delay it, prompting a flurry of last-minute appeals 
court hearings last week.

   Among other things, Trump's lawyers maintain that the jury pool in 
overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan has been tainted by negative publicity 
about Trump and that the case should be moved elsewhere.

   An appeals judge turned down an emergency request to delay the trial while 
the change-of-venue request goes to a group of appellate judges, who are set to 
consider it in the coming weeks.

   Manhattan prosecutors have countered that a lot of the publicity stems from 
Trump's own comments and that questioning will tease out whether prospective 
jurors can put aside any preconceptions they may have. There's no reason, 
prosecutors said, to think that 12 fair and impartial people can't be found 
amid Manhattan's roughly 1.4 million adult residents.

   The process of choosing those 12, plus six alternates, will begin with 
scores of people filing into Merchan's courtroom. They will be known only by 
number, as he has ordered their names to be kept secret from everyone except 
prosecutors, Trump and their legal teams.

   After hearing some basics about the case and jury service, the prospective 
jurors will be asked to raise hands if they believe they cannot serve or be 
fair and impartial. Those who do so will be excused, according to Merchan's 
filing last week.

   The rest will be eligible for questioning. The 42 preapproved, sometimes 
multi-pronged queries include background basics but also reflect the uniqueness 
of the case.

   "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?" asks one question.

   Others ask about attendance at Trump or anti-Trump rallies, opinions on how 
he's being treated in the case, news sources and more -- including any 
"political, moral, intellectual, or religious beliefs or opinions" that might 
"slant" a prospective juror's approach to the case.

   Based on the answers, the attorneys can ask a judge to eliminate people "for 
cause" if they meet certain criteria for being unable to serve or be unbiased. 
The lawyers also can use "peremptory challenges" to nix 10 potential jurors and 
two prospective alternates without giving a reason.

   "If you're going to strike everybody who's either a Republican or a 
Democrat," the judge observed at a February hearing, "you're going to run out 
of peremptory challenges very quickly."

 
 
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