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Jury selection to begin in the federal criminal trial of former President Trump

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For the first time in American history, a former president is going on trial as a criminal defendant.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Jury selection starts today in the case involving Donald Trump, his longtime fixer Michael Cohen and adult film star Stormy Daniels. Trump is facing 34 felony charges in a Manhattan courtroom for falsifying business records. He has pleaded not guilty to all of them. And on Friday, he said he'll take the stand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I'm testifying. I tell the truth. I mean, all I can do is tell the truth, and the truth is that there's no case. They have no case.

MARTIN: NPR's Andrea Bernstein is with us now with a preview. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So Donald Trump has lost three civil cases in New York over the past year, but this is the first trial that could result in prison time, at least hypothetically. So what are prosecutors alleging here?

BERNSTEIN: This all traces back to the end of the 2016 campaign, when Trump's attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, wrote up an agreement to prevent Stormy Daniels from speaking about an alleged affair with Trump. Cohen paid her $130,000 out of his own pocket. The criminal charges stem from how Donald Trump reimbursed Cohen - that is for a so-called legal retainer when there was no legal retainer. Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg says the false records were capped to cover up Trump and Cohen's attempts to change the outcome of the 2016 election.

MARTIN: Now, Trump has managed to delay each of his other three criminal trials. Why is this one going forward now?

BERNSTEIN: Well, he has delayed this one, too. The investigation started while he was president, but Trump's lawyers argued he was immune from criminal investigation. It went all the way to the Supreme Court twice, actually, before the investigation resumed and ultimately resulted in indictment a year ago, even after the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, told Trump's lawyers just three weeks ago, in fact, do not bring me last-minute frivolous motions, Trump tried and failed three times just last week to delay the case even more.

MARTIN: And I think people may remember that Trump has faced a lot of gag orders in his various trials. What about here?

BERNSTEIN: Also here. Judge Merchan recently added a provision that says Trump cannot disparage family members of the parties and witnesses, for fear that could discourage people from testifying truthfully. Merchan wrote earlier this month, the threat is very real the judicial system could be undermined.

MARTIN: OK, so the first step in any criminal trial is jury selection. How does this process work? Or how's it going to work in such a high profile case?

BERNSTEIN: So there will be a lot of potential jurors in the courtroom today. They'll be asked to respond to a series of questions. They will not be asked, who are you going to vote for in 2024? But they can be questioned on whether they or someone they're close to has worked or volunteered for or against Trump, whether they're a member of QAnon, the Oath Keepers, Antifa or other extremist groups. And they can be asked whether they have such strong feelings about Trump they can't be fair and impartial.

MARTIN: Is there a sense that it's going to be hard to find jurors who can be fair and impartial, given that he is so famous?

BERNSTEIN: I mean, it seems impossible, but I've now covered three jury trials involving Trump or his business in New York. And at the end of the day, each of them has ended up with a jury. In this case, it's expected to take about two weeks.

MARTIN: The jury selection is going to take two weeks?

BERNSTEIN: Yes.

MARTIN: And then the trial itself?

BERNSTEIN: The parties say about six to eight weeks. Trump will be in court four days a week from now until jurors determine whether, beyond any reasonable doubt, he committed these 34 felonies.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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