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Trump trial gets underway in New York with jury selection in historic case

Trump trial gets underway in New York with jury selection in historic case

Baku, April 16, AZERTAC

The first criminal trial of a former president in U.S. history officially got underway Monday in a crowded Manhattan courtroom, where prosecutors and defense attorneys began the arduous task of seating a 12-person jury in the case of The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump, CBS news reported.

Flanked by his attorneys in room 1530 of the Manhattan Criminal Court, Trump was seated at a table where countless defendants before him have appeared. Monday's proceedings started with lawyers for both sides arguing over several aspects of the case, including what evidence should be admissible and what questions should be asked of potential jurors.

The first 96 out of several hundred New York residents who make up the jury pool were sworn in just after 2 p.m., formally marking the beginning of the historic trial. More than half were quickly dismissed after they said they could not be fair and impartial. A handful of others said they could not serve for reasons that were not disclosed. Others were excused based on their answers to a questionnaire.

Trump is charged with 34 state counts of falsifying business records related to a "hush money" payment his attorney made to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming the prosecution is part of a plot by Democrats aimed at preventing him from retaking the White House. The case is the first of the four criminal prosecutions against Trump to make it to trial.

The presumptive Republican nominee for president addressed reporters outside the courtroom before making his way inside.

"This is really an attack on a political opponent. That's all it is," Trump said. "So I'm very honored to be here."

Judge Juan Merchan took his seat on the bench just before 10 a.m. and called the proceedings to order. He quickly denied a motion from Trump's legal team asking him to recuse himself from the case. Trump's attorneys had argued that Merchan should step aside because of his daughter's employment at a consultancy firm that does work for Democratic candidates and progressive groups. Merchan said their argument relied upon "a series of inferences, innuendos and unsupported allegations."

Trump's lawyers and prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office moved on to arguments over a handful of outstanding issues related to evidence, rules for the trial and the questions that potential jurors would answer.

Joshua Steinglass, a member of Bragg's team, said the prosecution would offer evidence that Trump conspired with his former attorney Michael Cohen and an executive at the parent company of the National Enquirer to suppress damaging stories about Trump, and publish negative stories about his rivals, before the 2016 election.

Steinglass said David Pecker, then the CEO of American Media, Inc., would testify that "he ran these stories to bolster Mr. Trump's campaign" and that they were "shown to Mr Trump before they were published, so he could approve, suggest or reject changes." Steinglass said prosecutors would introduce evidence pointing to "a deal struck between the defendant and AMI to put their thumbs on the scale."

Todd Blanche, an attorney for Trump, said the evidence has "nothing to do with the charged crime." Merchan sided with prosecutors, saying he would allow prosecutors to use the evidence at trial. The judge also said he would allow evidence related to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who also alleged an affair with Trump and sold the rights to her story to the National Enquirer.

Other rulings went in the defense's favor. Merchan reiterated a previous decision barring the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump can be heard talking about grabbing women, from being played for the jury. He also disallowed a recording of Trump discussing the tape during a deposition.

Later, prosecutors indicated they would ask the judge why Trump shouldn't be held in contempt for apparent violations of a gag order that Merchan imposed weeks ago. The order limits what Trump can say publicly about many of those involved in the case, including potential witnesses. Trump has attacked two well-known key witnesses, Cohen and Daniels, in social media posts since Merchan issued his order. Prosecutors asked the judge to hand down a fine of $1,000 each for three Trump posts and order that they be taken down. Merchan said he would hear arguments over the issue next week.

At several points during the arguments, Trump appeared to fall asleep at the defense table, his chin briefly dropping to his chest. In one instance, he was stirred awake by his attorney, Blanche, who touched his shoulder and spoke to him.

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