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Trump’s criminal hush money trial has first seven jurors

The first seven jurors were selected to serve on Donald Trump’s hush-money criminal trial, as the selection process continues to choose a panel of 12 members and six alternates who can be fair to the former US president.

The judge also warned lawyers that he would not tolerate any efforts to intimidate prospective jurors after saying Mr Trump, the Republican candidate for president in the 5 November election, was audibly muttering while one of the possible members of the panel was questioned.

Mr Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. Ms Daniels says she had a sexual encounter with Mr Trump about a decade beforehand.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies an encounter took place. He has called the case, brought by Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a partisan “witch hunt” meant to interfere with his campaign to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden.

The hush money case is one of four criminal prosecutions Mr Trump faces, which also stem from trying to overturn his 2020 loss and alleged mishandling of classified information. He has also pleaded not guilty to those charges, though the other three cases may not go to trial before the election.

The seven jurors selected included a man originally from Ireland who enjoys doing “anything outdoorsy” and watches both MSNBC and Fox News, a woman who works as an oncology nurse and enjoys taking her dog to the park, and a corporate lawyer who said he does not follow the news that closely.

During questioning by Mr Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche earlier on Tuesday, the nurse said she did not have a strong opinion about Mr Trump.

But, she said, “No one is above the law.”

Jury selection began on Monday, and is set to resume on Thursday after a day off on Wednesday. Judge Juan Merchan said opening statements could take place next Monday but warned that they could be delayed.

Stormy Daniels said she was introduced to Donald Trump in 2006

Trump wants ‘a fair shake’

The process so far has highlighted the challenges of choosing a group of impartial jurors from heavily Democratic Manhattan.

More than half the initial pool of 96 jurors called were dismissed on Monday after saying they did not believe they could be fair.

In questioning some who remained on Tuesday, Mr Blanche said he did not care about jurors’ politics but wanted to get a sense of whether they could be fair to Mr Trump as an individual.

“It’s extraordinarily important to President Trump that we know that we’re going to get a fair shake,” the attorney said.

The jurors are anonymous except to Mr Trump and lawyers for both sides.

Several prospective jurors said they did not have strong opinions about Mr Trump, or said their opinions were not relevant to the case.

“If we were sitting in a bar, I’d be happy to tell you,” said one jury candidate, a man who works at a bookstore and enjoys going to Broadway shows. “But, in this room, what I feel about President Trump is not important.”

Judge Merchan ultimately dismissed the juror.

In questioning jurors earlier on Tuesday, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said the case was not a referendum on Mr Trump’s presidency.

“This case is really not about whether you like Donald Trump,” Mr Steinglass said. “This case is about the rule of law and whether Donald Trump broke it.”

‘I won’t tolerate that’

With jurors outside the courtroom, Judge Merchan told lawyers for both sides that Mr Trump had been audibly muttering and gesturing while one prospective juror was being questioned. The judge told Mr Trump’s lawyer, Mr Blanche, to speak to his client about his behaviour.

“I won’t tolerate that,” the judge said. “I will not have any jurors intimidated in the courtroom.”

Mr Trump has routinely tested judges’ tolerance during his recent legal woes and is currently subject to a gag order imposed by Mr Merchan. It bars Mr Trump from making statements about witnesses, court staff and family members that are meant to interfere with the case.

On Monday, prosecutors asked Judge Merchan to fine Mr Trump $1,000 (€941.40) 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.

Mr Blanche said the former president was only responding to their criticism of him. Judge Merchan said he will consider the fines on 23 April.

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