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Donald Trump speaks to the press at the end of the second day of jury selection in his trial over charges that he falsified business records in 2016 in Manhattan state court in New York City on April 16.Curtis Means/Reuters

Donald Trump’s legal team grilled prospective jurors about their politics and social-media posts on the second day of his hush-money trial in a bid to weed out anyone who may be biased against their client.

The proceedings in a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday underlined one of the early difficulties in the first-ever prosecution of a former president, particularly one as starkly polarizing as Mr. Trump: finding a group of New Yorkers with no strong opinions on him.

One prospective juror was eliminated after Mr. Trump’s lawyers found he had written “lock him up” in relation to the former president on Facebook. Another was disqualified for posting an online video describing Mr. Trump as “dumb” and evading questions about it.

Judge Juan Merchan, meanwhile, admonished Mr. Trump for trying to intimidate a potential juror as she was being questioned by his lawyers.

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The day ended with seven jurors confirmed. Five more and six alternates must still be chosen later this week. Justice Merchan tentatively scheduled opening arguments to start on Monday.

The trial concerns a US$130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence ahead of the 2016 election. She says Mr. Trump cheated on his wife with her, which he denies. Prosecutors accuse the former president of falsifying business records and breaking campaign-finance rules in relation to the payoff.

While New York is Mr. Trump’s hometown and the epicentre of his real estate empire, the city largely reviles him. In 2020, he won just 22 per cent of the vote in Manhattan.

On Monday, more than 50 of the first 96 prospective jurors immediately eliminated themselves by declaring they could not be impartial about the case. On Tuesday morning, Justice Merchan had to delay the start of proceedings because several others simply failed to show up.

The remaining prospects had to answer a lengthy survey before submitting to questioning from the prosecution and defence. Many of the questions reflected the case’s singular nature, including asking whether prospective jurors were members of far-right groups.

Todd Blanche, Mr. Trump’s lead barrister, pressed all of them on their thoughts about his client. “What is your opinion of President Trump?” he asked. “I don’t have a strong opinion either way,” answered one potential juror.

But Mr. Blanche produced a Facebook post from 2017 in which the prospect celebrated a court striking down one of Mr. Trump’s immigration policies. “Kick him out and lock him up,” the post said. Justice Merchan agreed with Mr. Blanche’s request to disqualify the man.

Another prospective juror refused to answer Mr. Blanche’s question on his political opinions. “My view doesn’t matter,” he said. “If we were sitting in a bar, I would tell you.” When Mr. Blanche produced a video the man had posted disparaging Mr. Trump, Justice Merchan agreed that the man had credibility problems and barred him.

The names of jurors in the case will not be made public in order to protect them from potential harassment. Their identities are, however, known to the lawyers in the case, allowing them to investigate their backgrounds.

Donald Trump's lawyers and prosecutors on April 16 began challenging prospective jurors who may serve on his hush-money criminal trial, and the judge rebuked the former U.S. president for speaking while one potential juror was being questioned.


At one point, Justice Merchan castigated Mr. Trump for “muttering something” and “gesturing” at a potential juror who Mr. Blanche was questioning. The woman had posted a Facebook video of a street dance party celebrating Mr. Trump’s 2020 election defeat. “I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom,” Justice Merchan said.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly lashed out at judicial officials and witnesses throughout his legal proceedings at this trial and others. Earlier this month, Justice Merchan imposed a gag order on the former president. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump laced into Justice Merchan over his daughter working for Democratic political candidates.

“We have a Trump-hating judge. We have a judge who shouldn’t be on this case. He’s totally conflicted,” he told reporters in a hallway outside the courtroom.

In the morning, Mr. Trump looked bored, sitting back in his chair with his head tilted to the side and his eyes half-closed. By afternoon, he was more upright and turned his body to face prospective jurors. He laughed when one prospect described reading two of his books.

Mr. Blanche used six of 10 jury strikes to eliminate several people from the pool who Justice Merchan had declined to disqualify. Prosecutors used four of their strikes.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass argued that jurors’ politics should not factor into the case. “This is not a referendum on the Trump presidency or a popularity contest,” he told one group of prospective jurors, framing the case as about whether Mr. Trump falsified documents “to cover up unlawful influence” of the 2016 election.

Mr. Steinglass seemed concerned about whether prospective jurors would be leery of the case for taking seven years to come to trial. He also asked if they would be biased against witnesses who have “baggage.”

Central to the prosecution’s case is Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal crimes related to the payoff. Ms. Daniels is also expected to testify, along with David Pecker, a former supermarket tabloid magnate who also helped arrange hush-money payoffs for Mr. Trump.

This was not, however, the strangest of the day. That honour belonged to a back-and-forth between Mr. Blanche and one prospective juror who said he found Mr. Trump “fascinating and mysterious.”

“He walks into a room and he sets people off one way or the other,” the man said. “Wow! That’s what I think.”

“All right,” a perplexed Mr. Blanche replied. The man made it onto the jury.

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