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Trump’s hush money case to go ahead after judge rejects latest bid to delay

Donald Trump (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)
Donald Trump (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

A full jury of 12 people and six alternatives has been selected in Donald Trump’s hush money case, setting the stage for opening statements next week in the first criminal trial of a former US president.

Hours later, an appeals court judge rejected a last-minute bid by the Republican to halt the trial over his claims that jury selection was unfairly rushed.

The jury, which includes a software engineer, an investment banker, an English teacher and multiple lawyers, took final shape after lawyers spent days quizzing dozens of potential jurors on whether they could impartially judge the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

The judge said lawyers will present opening statements on Monday morning before prosecutors begin laying out their case alleging a scheme to cover up negative stories Trump feared would damage his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump Hush Money
Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York (Sarah Yenesel/AP)

The trial in Manhattan thrusts Trump’s legal problems into the heart of his hotly contested race against President Joe Biden, with Trump’s opponent likely to seize on unflattering and salacious evidence to make the case he is unfit to return as commander in chief.

Trump is using the prosecution as a political rallying cry, casting himself as a victim while juggling his dual roles as criminal defendant and presidential candidate.

He has spent the week sitting quietly in the courtroom as lawyers pressed potential jurors on their views about him in a search for any bias that would preclude them from hearing the case.

During breaks in proceedings, he railed against the case on social media or to TV cameras in the hallway, calling it a politically motivated “witch hunt”.

“This Trial is a Long, Rigged, Endurance Contest, dealing with Nasty, Crooked People, who want to DESTROY OUR COUNTRY,” he wrote on Friday on social media.

Over five days of jury selection, dozens of people were dismissed from the jury pool after saying they did not believe they could be fair.

Trump Hush Money
Donald Trump and his lawyer Todd Blanche (Mark Peterson/AP)

Others expressed anxiety about having to decide such a consequential case with outsized media attention, even though the judge has ruled that jurors’ names will be known only to prosecutors, Trump and their legal teams.

As more potential jurors were questioned on Friday, Trump appeared to lean over at the defence table, scribbling on some papers and exchanging notes with one of his lawyers.

He occasionally perked up and gazed at the jury box, including when one would-be juror said he had volunteered in a “get out the vote” effort for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Trump spoke to reporters before Friday’s proceedings got under way, condemning a gagging order that prosecutors have accused him of violating.

Judge Juan Merchan has scheduled arguments for next week on prosecutors’ request to hold Trump in contempt of court and fine him for social media posts they say defy limits on what he can say about potential witnesses.

“The gag order has to come off. People are allowed to speak about me, and I have a gag order,” Trump said.

Judge Merchan is also expected to hear arguments on prosecutors’ request to bring up Trump’s prior legal entanglements if he takes the witness stand in the hush money case.

Not Real News
Judge Juan Merchan (Seth Wenig/AP)

Manhattan prosecutors have said they want to question Trump about his recent civil fraud trial that resulted in a 454 million dollar (£365 million) judgment after a judge found Trump had lied about his wealth for years. He is appealing against that verdict.

The trial centres on a 130,000-dollar (£105,000) payment that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, made to porn actress Stormy Daniels to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump from becoming public in the final days of the 2016 race.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of the payments in internal records when his company reimbursed Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018 and is expected to be a star witness for the prosecution.

Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He could get up to four years in prison if convicted, though it is not clear that the judge would opt to put him behind bars. Trump would almost certainly appeal against any conviction.

Trump is involved in four criminal cases, but it is not clear that any others will reach trial before the November election.

Appeals and legal wrangling have caused delays in the other three cases charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 election results and illegally hoarding classified documents.