Task 1 in the Trump Organization Trial: Choose a Neutral Jury


NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s company went to trial Monday in a criminal tax case, and the first task facing the court is an important one: choosing a jury of New Yorkers who don’t have a strong opinion on the former president.

Manhattan prosecutors say the Trump Organization helped top executives avoid income tax on employee benefits such as rent-free apartments and luxury cars.

Trump himself is not on trial and should not testify. But the judge and attorneys handling the case will likely seek to steer people away from the jury if they have strong feelings about the Republican, who is unloved in his hometown.

In the 2020 presidential election, 87% of Manhattan voters backed Democrat Joe Biden for president. Trump got 12% of the vote.

“We think it’s probably going to be a good week for jury selection,” one of the Trump Organization’s attorneys, William Brennan, said as he arrived at the courthouse on Monday. “When you boil it all down, it’s a garden variety tax thing. And that’s how they should see it.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan got things started on Monday by bringing 132 potential jurors into the courtroom.

They all stood up and raised their right hands and took the oath. Afterwards, the judge addressed them for more than 20 minutes, describing the case and explaining that they were looking for impartial jurors who will decide solely on the basis of the evidence.

Merchan told the jury that the trial would last approximately six weeks and that during the case jurors would likely hear Trump’s name and the names of his three oldest children, Ivanka, Eric and Donald Trump Jr.

The trial is expected to focus on the actions and testimony of longtime Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to accepting more than $1.7 million in untaxed benefits from the part of the company.

Trump called the investigation a “political witch hunt.” Lawyers for the company said the Trump Organization followed the rules.

If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million. A guilty verdict could hamper his ability to obtain loans and close deals.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg inherited the charge when he took office in January. Bragg has taken a cautious approach with Trump, so far refusing to bring charges against him personally in what is now a three-year investigation.

The jury selection process could take several days, especially if people in the pool express reservations about their ability to be neutral. Getting a panel with an open mind, however, could be key to avoiding a mistrial.

In the spring, another trial at a nearby federal courthouse ended in a mistrial due to juror tensions over political views. That case involved associates of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon accused of defrauding a charity founded to help pay for a wall along the US border with Mexico.

Eleven jurors in that case sent a note to the judge asking that another juror be removed because that person had shown anti-government bias and accused everyone else of being liberals. The judge refused, and the jury ultimately could not agree on a verdict.


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