By Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press
NEW YORK (Associated Press) – It took just three days for a 12-person jury to be appointed to Donald Trump’s tax fraud trial – surprising even some of the people involved in the case who thought it would take at least a week to find an impartial committee in New York City strongly democratic.
Five of the jurors were sworn in on Thursday, joining seven chosen on Tuesday. Six alternates still need to be seated. That process begins again on Thursday and Friday with a second set of potential jurors, but lawyers say they are on track to deliver opening statements on Monday.
The eight men and four women selected so far came out of a rigorous process, including a 32-part questionnaire and one-on-one interrogation, designed to filter out candidates who have firm opinions about the former Republican president and his company, the Trump Organization.
The jurors selected were among the least vocal on Trump. Some admitted that they had opinions about him and his leadership, but pledged to put aside any personal ideas and to consider only the evidence presented during the trial, which is taking place in state court in Manhattan.
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Judge Juan Manuel Merchan said the case — which involves allegations that the Trump Organization helped some top executives avoid income taxes on the compensation they received in addition to their salaries — is likely to take about six weeks, meaning it could end in December.
Trump himself is not on trial and is not expected to testify, but his name is sure to come up often.
Trump signed some of the checks in dispute in the case. His name appears in notes and other evidence. Another firm’s attorney, Alan Wouterfas, said he expects some witnesses to testify about the conversations they had with Trump.
William Brennan, an attorney for the Trump Organization, referred to Trump’s absence as “the fog in the room.”
Prosecutors said they did not need to prove that Trump was aware of the compensation plan to obtain a conviction.
They argue that the Trump Organization is responsible in part because former CFO Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to receiving $1.7 million in unrecorded damages, was a “senior managing agent” tasked with acting on behalf of the company.
Weiselberg, whose perks included renting an apartment, luxury cars, and education for his grandchildren, agreed to testify as part of a plea deal that also included several months in prison.
“This case is not about Donald Trump,” Chief Prosecutor Susan Hofinger said.
As quick as the jury selection was, the process also underscored how difficult it would be to find anyone who had nothing to say at least about Trump — especially in Manhattan, where 87% of voters in the 2020 election went alongside Democratic challenger Joe. Biden.
The challenge for defense attorneys, prosecutors, and merchandisers was to determine which opinions were innocuous, which were disqualified, and where to draw the line.
A juror made the cut after saying he thought Trump was “acting a little crazy” and narcissistic as president.
Merchant concluded that the man’s negative views of Trump were limited to his presidency and did not involve issues relevant to the case, such as his work as a businessman and his company. The defense’s request to hit the man was refused for reason, and the defense chose not to use one of its limited peremptory appeals.
Other decisions were more straightforward.
The woman who said “Trump keeps lying to the American people that he won the 2020 election” and another woman who gave glorified endorsements to Trump and his company were excluded from consideration.
Then there was Noah Baser, a workers’ compensation attorney, whose extreme honesty in revealing his vision of Trump led to a swift agreement between prosecutors and the Trump Organization’s attorneys that he wasn’t a good fit for the jury.
“I absolutely hate him. I think he is a liar, a con artist and a bully. He is a danger to our democracy, international stability and possibly humanity because of his environmental policies,” Basser said during his public questioning. “I think his university was a fraud. His charity was a scam. He has problems with the truth.”
Brennan, the Trump Organization’s attorney, was so troubled to send Baser home that he mixed up his notes and began arguing against him when another juror’s case was still under consideration. By the time they reached Passer, the two sides had agreed 12 jurors were seated, which meant he was about to be considered as a first alternative.
Brennan Baser described him as “the most exciting, overtly hostile potential juror” in the pool, and said he was “a no-brainer” to be turned away.
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