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Trump returns to New York court for hush money trial

Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial enters a second day, as lawyers try to select 12 New York City jurors to consider the guilt or innocence of the first former US president to face criminal charges.

The first day underscored the challenges of the task.

Roughly half of 100 potential jurors questioned were dismissed after saying they could not impartially judge the polarising businessman-turned-politician, who is mounting a comeback White House bid while battling four separate criminal cases.

A New York native who now lives in Florida, Mr Trump was a fixture in the city’s tabloid press for decades before he won the presidency as a Republican in 2016.

But as a politician, he has never been able to count on the heavily Democratic city for votes.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, charged Mr Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

Ms Daniels said she had a sexual relationship with Mr Trump about a decade beforehand.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies an encounter took place.

Prosecutors asked Justice Juan Merchan yesterday to fine Mr Trump $1,000

To prove a felony, prosecutors must show that Mr Trump covered up the payment to conceal a crime like an illegal campaign contribution.

Mr Trump has said that the payment was personal and intended to spare himself and his family embarrassment.

In other jurisdictions, he stands accused of mishandling classified information and trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

But the hush money case may be the only one to go to trial before Mr Trump faces Mr Biden again in the 5 November election.

If convicted, Mr Trump would still be able to run for office and serve as president if he won.

But a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that half of independents and a quarter of his fellow Republicans would not vote for him if he is found guilty.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four criminal cases and says they are a plot by Mr Biden’s Democrats to neutralise him politically.

Though the New York case is centered on events that took place more than seven years ago, prosecutors are trying to hold Mr Trump accountable for more recent conduct as well.

Prosecutors asked Justice Juan Merchan yesterday to fine Mr Trump $1,000 (€939) for each of three social media posts this month that criticised Ms Daniels and Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former fixer who is expected to be a prominent witness in the trial.

Under a gag order imposed by Mr Merchan, Mr Trump is barred from making statements about witnesses, court staff and family members that are meant to interfere with the case.

Mr Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said the former president was only responding to their criticism of him.

Mr Merchan said he will consider the fines on 23 April.

Mr Trump is required to be in court throughout the trial

Mr Trump took to his social media platform Truth Social this morning to criticise Mr Merchan, saying the judge would not allow him to respond to “people that are on TV lying and spewing hate all day long”.

“Take off the Gag Order!!!” he wrote.

Jury selection is expected to consume the rest of the week and the trial is scheduled to last through May.

Mr Trump is required to be in court throughout, and Mr Merchan denied a request for him to miss a session so he could attend a hearing at the US Supreme Court, where his lawyers will argue that Mr Trump should not be prosecuted for actions he took as president.

“He thinks he’s superior, I guess, to the Supreme Court. We’ve got a real problem with this judge,” Mr Trump said after yesterday’s session.

The 12 jurors selected for the trial, along with six alternates, will hear testimony from Ms Daniels and Cohen, who has said he made the payments to buy her silence.

Other expected witnesses include David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, who prosecutors say ran stories to boost Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Also due up is Karen McDougal, a former nude model for Playboy magazine who prosecutors say was paid by the National Enquirer to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Mr Trump.

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