Controversial Jury Selection Casts Doubt on Venue of Trump’s Criminal Trial, Experts Say

Controversial Jury Selection Casts Doubt on Venue of Trump’s Criminal Trial, Experts Say



The jury selection that got underway on Monday and Tuesday and will pick up again on Thursday in the criminal trial of Donald J. Trump brought to light deep bias against the former president and current GOP front-runner, as one prospective juror after another claimed to be able to weigh the evidence neutrally while professing disagreement with or dislike of the defendant.


Government prosecutors seeking to convict President Trump on charges of having falsified business records to cover up a “hush money” payment in 2017 may be counting on the political complexion of Manhattan, where Joe Biden won 84.5 percent of the vote in the 2020 race, to help them secure a guilty verdict in a case mostly devoid of legal merit, a political consultant has told The Epoch Times.


Controversial Jury Selection Casts Doubt on Venue of Trump’s Criminal Trial, Experts Say
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Lawyers for President Trump unsuccessfully appealed for both a delay of the trial and a change of venue to a different jurisdiction, citing Manhattan’s political complexion and the intensive coverage of the front-runner’s legal woes.


The consequences of putting Manhattan residents’ partisan convictions to use on behalf of a criminal prosecution sets a dangerous precedent, pointing to a future where the timing and location of trials will increasingly depend on law enforcement officials’ political beliefs and allegiances.


That’s the view of John Feehery, a strategist and former press secretary of Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Mr. Hastert served as the 51st speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007 before a conviction on charges similar to those President Trump now faces, namely the manipulation of business records to conceal sexual impropriety.


“If the current trial sets a precedent, and it might, it is a very troubling precedent. Using the legal system in a highly partisan jurisdiction to play partisan politics is deeply troubling,” Mr. Feehery told The Epoch Times.


Jurors’ Allegiances

On Tuesday, prospective jurors painstakingly answered 42 questions on the form that Judge Juan Merchan had appended to his April 8 letter to defense lawyer Todd Blanche and government attorney Joshua Steinglass setting forth courtroom protocols and priorities for People v. Trump.


After the responses to the questionnaire and the dismissals of several prospective jurors on various grounds, Mr. Steinglass and Mr. Blanche questioned many of the remaining candidates directly in an effort to assess their ability to be neutral.


Many of the answers heard in the 100 Centre St. courtroom were a simple yes or no, but in other cases, they cited issues that they felt did not reflect well on President Trump, all the while maintaining that they understood the need to separate personal political views from legal opinions, to judge evidence objectively, and to reach a fair verdict based on that neutral consideration of the facts in the case.


After the dismissal of one prospective juror, who admitted that having grown up in a conservative part of Texas and having a number of Republican friends might predispose him toward sympathy for the defendant, the court heard from a stream of men and women who said they got a bulk of their news from CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, National Public Radio, the Daily News, and other sources that frequently editorialize against President Trump. A few said they read centrist or conservative sources such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.


One prospective juror who said he had moved to New York from Puerto Rico and now lived in Hell’s Kitchen identified the Daily News, the New York Times, Google, and X (formerly Twitter) as his sources of news.


The next prospective juror said that he and his wife were members of the American Civil Liberties Union and went on to name the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post, and the Huffington Post as his primary sources of news about the world.


In spite of the absence of conservative outlets on this list, he went on to state, “I feel that no one is above the law. I don’t think there is anything that would prevent me from being a fair and impartial juror.”


The next candidate identified herself as a Westchester-born resident of the Lower East Side, now retired, who derived her news largely from the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Daily News. She went on to state, “If you were to look at my Facebook page, there are a couple things that could be considered [aligned with] Occupy Democrats,” and added, “I think everyone should be treated fairly in the courts.”


Lawyers Question Jurors

These responses were highly typical of the prospective jurors who went through the questionnaires before Mr. Steinglass, and Mr. Blanche began to pose questions to some of them directly.


Mr. Steinglass prefaced his questions with a rambling statement in which he stressed that the focus of the trial would be on falsified business records and that it was not in any way a precursor to the November election.


“The defendant in this case is both a former president and a current candidate for that office. No one is suggesting that you can’t be a fair juror if you’ve heard of Donald Trump. That said, we need you to set aside any strong feelings you may have. This case has nothing to do with your personal politics,” he stated.


Mr. Steinglass went to some lengths to explain the concept of accessorial liability, under which a defendant is culpable for crimes committed on his orders or under his auspices, even if he may not have been present when they occurred.


He also stressed that jurors must be prepared for minor discrepancies in testimony given that the imputed crime took place in 2017 and some of the documents that would undergo scrutiny during the trial dated to 2015. The prosecutor told prospective jurors not to discredit any trial testimony on the grounds of such seeming irregularities or their view of the character of such witnesses as adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.


A number of the candidates Mr. Steinglass interviewed expressed strong disagreement with President Trump with regard to policy or a more general dislike of him on a personal level.


One prospective juror, identified under courtroom nomenclature as B330, emphasized her record of public service and suggested, even if she did not state it in quite as many words, that she disliked powerful businesspeople and political figures who did not act in accordance with her altruistic spirit.


“I’m a public servant, and I’ve built my entire career upon trying to serve the city that I live in, and I think of this [trying President Trump on criminal charges] as an extension of that, of what’s required of me as a citizen,” said B330.


Under further questioning from Mr. Steinglass, she said, “I don’t think I’m actively pursuing those opinions. The idea that you have to raise a lot of money to serve is unfortunate because there are a lot of people devoted to making their cities and states and country great.”


Mr. Steinglass then asked, “Is there anything that’s going to affect your ability to listen objectively?”

“I don’t think there is,” B330 answered.

Another prospective juror, identified as B285, professed a general lack of interest in politics while singling out President Trump for having “targeted females.”


“I’m a female, Trump has targeted females, so a lot of my friends have strong opinions around President Trump. There have been cases on, ‘has he treated females correctly?’” she said.


Yet another candidate, identified as B214, also claimed a general lack of interest in politics, along with ambivalence about President Trump.


“I don’t really follow national politics that much. There’s things associated with him that I agree with, things that I don’t really have an opinion on,” this candidate said.


In his questioning, Mr. Blanche sought to ascertain the jurors’ neutrality. He disputed Mr. Steinglass’s use of a baseball metaphor during the latter’s address to the juror pool. The trial was about far more than “balls and strikes,” hence, jurors should not overlook minor discrepancies in testimony, which could, in fact, be indicative of serious flaws in the government’s case.


The answers Mr. Blanche elicited from prospective jurors were similarly evasive, with respondents couching ambivalence or hostility in a general acknowledgment of the need for objectivity.


Prospective juror B128 said she had lived in New York for 50 years, and much of her view of President Trump derived from his prominence in the real estate market.


“President Trump has been a notable figure in real estate here, as a developer. There’s very little we probably agree on, policy-wise. Sometimes I get frustrated with it, like anybody does. I have family members who support him. We manage to have decent conversations around that,” she said.


Prospective juror B89 noted what she saw as President Trump’s courting of controversy and divisive persona. “So many people are set off one way or another, and that is interesting,” B89 said.


Tuesday’s proceedings wrapped up with seven jurors sworn in and “voir-dire” set to resume on Thursday morning. Judge Merchan set April 22 for open arguments in the case, a sign of his confidence that a jury composed of men and women fully capable of assessing the evidence neutrally and rendering a fair verdict is all but a “fait accompli.”


The Trial and November

Given the historic nature of the trial, the first criminal prosecution of a former president and front-runner for a coming election, voir-dire is proceeding with few hiccups, noted Keith Naughton, principal of Silent Majority Strategies, a Germantown, Maryland-based consultancy.


“It seems like the jury selection process is moving forward smoothly with little of the fireworks surrounding the trial [itself],” Mr. Naughton told The Epoch Times.


Despite persistent questions about the fairness of the trial in a deep-blue stronghold, Mr. Naughton sees ways it could redound to President Trump’s advantage.


“Trump could win in the court of public opinion if he makes this prosecution all about a misuse of public resources, pointing to crime in Manhattan and the recent march on City Hall by migrants demanding free hotel rooms. However, Trump is spending too much time whining about his legal troubles. I don’t think that’s a smart strategy,” Mr. Naughton said.


Mr. Feehery said he saw parallels between the trial and the prosecution of former House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) on campaign money laundering charges, which in January 2011 resulted in a conviction and three-year prison sentence, later reversed on appeal.


“They drove DeLay from office with a specious prosecution that was overturned on appeal by a higher court well after he left office. The same thing happened to Senator Ted Stevens,” Mr. Feehery said.


“What the Democrats are doing is completely outrageous but not without precedent. They have done it before,” he added.

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