Jury selection completed for Trump hush money trial in NYC; opening arguments begin Monday

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NEW YORK — The action-packed first week of Donald Trump’s Manhattan hush money trial ended Friday with 12 seated jurors and six alternates locked in — and a fourth failed bid by the former president to sabotage it, paving the way for prosecutors to begin presenting their case.

Four women and one man were selected as the final alternates around midday, completing the jury selection process after four days of hundreds of Manhattanites being surveyed about whether they could judge the evidence against Trump with an open mind. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan told them to plan on coming back for opening statements on Monday.

The panelists — who added to seven men and five women selected to serve on Tuesday and Thursday — are poised to make history by weighing the first-ever criminal charges brought against an American president and determining whether Trump is a felon before voters head to the polls in November.

Their selection came as several prospective panelists said they felt unable to participate in such a high-stakes case, expressing fear after the gravity of the case sunk in.

“I think, possibly, I have really bad anxiety,” one woman told the court. “The more days that go on and more and more people in my life know that I’m here without me even telling them, they just put pieces together.”

Another woman said she had every intention of keeping an open mind when summoned to the downtown courthouse earlier this week for jury selection but no longer felt she could realistically be fair.

“I want to be, and I had every intention,” she said. “I think after the questions posed to prospective jurors, and asking those questions to myself, I don’t think I can be impartial.”

Merchan excused both women without either side objecting.

Just after the slate of alternates was chosen, disturbing news broke of a man setting himself on fire in front of the courthouse. The man, identified by authorities as Maxwell Azzarello, 37, reportedly threw pamphlets that continued a QR code linking to an online manifesto in the air, before dousing and lighting himself on fire. Despite the timing, there was no indication he did so out of loyalty to Trump.

The trial proceeded uninterrupted.

“The entire court is impacted by this. The court officers rushed to help aid the man. Everyone who works in this building every day, their heart goes out to this incident,” courts spokesman Al Baker told the New York Daily News.

“The judge himself has expressed concern for him, but in terms of the timing, and the process is unchanged," Baker said. "The court proceeding will continue.”

Later Friday, Merchan heard arguments from both sides after jury selection regarding what evidence the jury could see, which he’s expected to rule on next week. And a New York midlevel appeals court judge denied another of Trump’s efforts to upend the trial timeline — the fourth in less than two weeks. After hearing a last-minute emergency motion, 1st Department Associate Justice Marsha Michael denied the request to pause the trial until Trump’s request to move it out of Manhattan is decided.

Trump sat hunched over at the defense table most of the day, reading through paperwork as the potential jurors addressed the court. He did not answer questions about the self-immolation as he entered the courtroom.

Outside court, he slammed a gag order prosecutors say he’s violated eight times alone this week.

“The gag order has to come off,” Trump said. “People are allowed to speak about me and I have a gag order, just to show you how much more unfair it is.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felonies alleging he repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to cover up a hush money scheme intended to hide damaging information from the voting public in 2016.

The charges relate to a $130,000 payment his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels that he allegedly reimbursed him for in 2017, as well as payoffs to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and Trump Tower doorman.

Daniels and McDougal, who are expected to testify, both allege they slept with Trump at a Lake Tahoe charity golf tournament in 2006, less than two years after he wed Melania Trump and they became parents to Barron Trump. He denies both women’s claims.

As he seeks the White House once again, Trump is facing a total of 88 felonies across four states, containing allegations of criminal conduct dating from the year before he took office to the year he left. The allegations run the gamut from falsifying records to plotting to overthrow democracy. He has decried all charges as part of a Democrat-led “witch hunt.”