Jury selection stalled in historic Trump trial

Jury selection in the historic New York criminal trial against former US President Donald Trump stalled on the third day of the trial. Two previously selected jury members were subsequently dismissed on Thursday, reducing the number of jurors selected from seven to five. A total of twelve jurors and six alternate jurors are needed.

The first criminal trial in history against a former US president concerns a hush money payment to the former porn actress Stormy Daniels, which Trump is said to have covered up by falsifying business figures. Judge Juan Merchan is aiming to begin opening statements on Monday. According to his plans, the jury selection should be completed by the end of the week.

By Tuesday, jury selection had progressed quickly: seven jury members had been selected by then. There was a one-day break in the process, and on Thursday the selection process initially moved backwards. One woman selected was excluded again after she raised concerns her identity had been revealed. Judge Merchan ordered that the jurors remain anonymous to protect them from bribery attempts and even physical violence.

A short time later, the judge dismissed another juror after prosecutors discovered he had not told the full truth in his questioning. Jury selection is a complicated procedure because the prosecution and defense must ensure that there is no bias among the members in favor or against the defendant.

The citizens invited as potential jurors are therefore presented with a catalog of 42 questions. They are asked about their media consumption, their possible donations to political organizations or their attitude towards Trump. Merchan warned the defendant on Tuesday not to “intimidate” jurors. Previously, the defendant had been heard muttering in the direction of a potential jury member.

The jury must reach a unanimous decision on whether Trump is guilty or innocent. If there is just a single dissenting vote, the trial would be declared a failure and end without a verdict – which would be a triumph for the Republicans' likely renewed presidential candidate.

Trump is accused of falsifying business documents in 34 cases in order to conceal the payment of $130,000 (122,000 euros at today's rate) to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. This meant that the former porn actress was silenced about an alleged sexual encounter that she said she had had with Trump ten years earlier.

Trump has pleaded innocent. He has also denied any sexual contact with Stormy Daniels. The 77-year-old could face a prison sentence if convicted – although legal experts consider this to be unlikely.

The right-wing populist presents himself as an innocent victim of a politically controlled justice system. He is still criminally charged in three other cases. It's about his attempts to retroactively overturn his 2020 election defeat against current President Joe Biden, as well as his taking secret government documents to his private estate in the state of Florida. However, it is unclear whether trials on these three other charges could begin before the election.

The hush money trial is expected to last around six to eight weeks, so the verdict will be handed down well before the election on November 5th, in which the Republican Trump wants to run again against the Democrat Biden.