NEW YORK (AP) — It took just three days to assemble a 12-person jury in the tax fraud trial against Donald Trump’s company — surprising even some people involved in the case who thought it would take at least a week to form an impartial panel found in heavily democratic New York City.
Five of the jurors were sworn in Thursday and seven were selected Tuesday. Six deputies still have to sit. That trial will begin anew Thursday and Friday with a second pool of potential jurors, but attorneys say they are on track to make opening statements on Monday.
The eight men and four women selected so far emerged from a demanding process that included a 32-item questionnaire and individual interviews to weed out candidates with unwavering opinions about the Republican former president and his firm, the Trump Organization.
The selected jurors were among the least vocal about Trump. Some admitted they had opinions about him and his leadership, but vowed to put all personal thoughts aside and only consider evidence presented during the trial, which is being held in Manhattan state court.
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan said the case — which has included allegations that the Trump Organization helped some top executives avoid income taxes on compensation they received on top of their salaries — is expected to last about six weeks, meaning it could take place in the could end in December.
Trump himself is not on trial and is not expected to testify, but his name is sure to come up often.
Trump signed some of the checks involved in the case. His name appears on memos and other evidence. Another company attorney, Alan Futerfas, said he expects some witnesses to testify about conversations they had with Trump.
Trump Organization attorney William J. Brennan referred to the absent Trump as the “fog in the room.”
Prosecutors said they don’t have to show Trump knew about the compensation scheme to get a conviction.
They argue that the Trump Organization is liable in part because former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to accepting $1.7 million in unscheduled compensation, was a “high management agent” who hired it authorized to act on behalf of the company.
Weisselberg, whose perks included apartment rent, luxury cars and tuition for his grandchildren, has agreed to testify as part of a plea deal that also includes several months in prison.
“This case is not about Donald Trump,” said lead prosecutor Susan Hoffinger.
As quick as the jury’s selection was, the process also underscored how difficult it is to find someone who doesn’t have at least something to say about Trump — particularly in Manhattan, where 87% of voters in the 2020 election supported his Democratic Rivals Joe were Biden.
The challenge for defense attorneys, prosecutors, and dealers has been to figure out which opinions are harmless, which are disqualifying, and where to draw the line.
A juror made the cut after saying Trump acted “a little crazy” and narcissistic as president.
Merchan argued that the man’s negative opinions of Trump were limited to his presidency and did not address issues relevant to the case, such as his work as a businessman and his company. He denied the defense’s request to hit the man for cause, and the defense chose not to use one of their limited number of decided challenges.
Other decisions were clearer.
A woman who said, “Trump continues to lie to the American people that he won the 2020 election,” and another woman who ardently supported Trump and his company, were both disregarded.
Then there was Noah Passer, a workers’ compensation attorney whose brutal honesty in disclosing his views on Trump led to a quick consensus among prosecutors and attorneys at the Trump Organization that he was not the right person for the jury.
“I absolutely hate him. I think he’s a liar and a cheat and a bully. With his environmental policies, he is a danger to our democracy, international stability and possibly humanity,” said Passer during a court hearing. “I think his university was a scam. His charity was a scam. He has trouble with the truth.”
Brennan, the Trump Organization’s attorney, was so keen to send Passer home that he messed up his notes and began arguing against him when yet another juror was being considered. By the time they got to Passer, the sides had agreed on the 12 jurors who were seated, meaning he was eligible as first alternate.
Brennan called Passer the “most seething, openly hostile potential juror” in the pool and said removing him was a “no brainer”.
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