Trump's terrible, very bad, no good week? As trial kicks off, a series of setbacks

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Former President Donald Trump suffered a series of setbacks on the first two days of his historic New York criminal trial, in which he faces 34 felony counts that carry a potential prison sentence.

Prosecutors say Trump falsified business records to conceal a hush money payment that was designed to unlawfully interfere with the 2016 election. Trump allegedly authorized his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to make the payment to porn star Stormy Daniels out of fear her story of a sexual encounter with Trump would hurt his standing with women voters. The payment violated federal campaign finance laws, according to prosecutors.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies Daniels' claim.

Jury selection, which Trump has suggested is not giving him a fair shot, will continue when the trial resumes on Thursday.

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Former President Donald Trump attends the first day of his hush money trial in New York City on April 15, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump attends the first day of his hush money trial in New York City on April 15, 2024.

Here are six bits of bad news for Trump from Monday and Tuesday:

Setback #1: Trump loses motion for judge's recusal

Trump's trial technically only started when jury selection got underway in the afternoon on Monday. But even before that, court proceedings didn't go well for him.

Judge Juan Merchan opened the day by denying Trump's motion for the judge's recusal. Trump argued that Merchan should be off the case because his daughter leads a marketing agency that does work for Democratic political candidates.

Merchan noted the determination of the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics that the judge's impartiality couldn't be reasonably questioned based on the daughter's work because Trump's case doesn't involve her business. The judge already denied a similar motion back in August.

"The court will not address this matter further," Merchan said Monday.

Setback #2: The trial started

The mere fact that the trial started was a loss for Trump. He submitted a flurry of court filings in the days and weeks before trial seeking to delay proceedings. Three separate New York appellate judges denied three separate emergency appeals by Trump that were seeking delay.

Merchan also denied Trump's motions for delay based on pre-trial publicity and based on the fact that the Supreme Court will hear arguments over Trump's presidential immunity claims in a separate case later this month.

Setback #3: Trump could be held in contempt over gag order

Prosecutors on Monday asked Merchan to hold Trump in contempt, fine him $3,000, and warn him that he could face jail time for future violations. Merchan is going to hold a hearing on the issue next Tuesday.

The reason? Prosecutors allege Trump violated Merchan's gag order against him at least three times. The order prohibits Trump from publicly commenting on the participation of potential witnesses in the case.

In issuing that order, Merchan cited a history of Trump making "inflammatory" out-of-court statements that instilled fear in people involved in Trump's legal cases and increased security needs. Such statements "undoubtedly risk impeding the orderly administration of this Court," according to the March 26 order.

Prosecutors highlighted a Trump Truth Social post on Saturday stating: "Has disgraced attorney and felon Michael Cohen been prosecuted for LYING?" They also pointed to an April 10 post calling Cohen and Daniels "sleaze bags."

Trump's team asked to respond to the allegations in writing, and the judge gave them a deadline of Friday to do so.

Setback #4: Judge admonishes Trump

As a former president and head of a real estate business empire, Trump might not be used to being admonished by someone more powerful in the room. But that's essentially what happened to him on Tuesday, after Trump's lawyer questioned a potential juror about a video the Trump trial team found on social media that was tied to her and filmed an anti-Trump event.

After the prospective juror left the courtroom, Merchan said he heard Trump making comments while the woman was there, although he couldn't hear what Trump actually said.

"I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom," Merchan told Trump lawyer Todd Blanche. "Speak to your client," Merchan instructed.

Blanche leaned over and whispered to Trump, who then leaned forward at the defense table.

Setback #5: Trump not happy with jury selection?

When Merchan denied Trump's delay request based on pre-trial publicity, he said the right way to address Trump's concerns was to have a "thorough, thoughtful and effective" process of questioning potential jurors.

Each side has been given 10 "peremptory strikes" they can use in the selection process. Those essentially work as vetoes over potential jurors that can be used for almost any reason. Once a side runs out of strikes, they have to take the next potential juror who comes unless the judge disqualifies the person. By the end of Tuesday, both sides had used six of their strikes.

It's possible the Trump team is happy with how the selection process has panned out so far.

But Trump didn't seem pleased when he posted on his Truth Social media platform Wednesday, which was an off-day in the trial.

"I thought STRIKES were supposed to be 'unlimited' when we were picking our jury? I was then told we only had 10, not nearly enough when we were purposely given the 2nd Worst Venue in the Country," he posted.

Setback #6: Caught snoozing

Trump is famously image-conscious, and he has frequently mocked opponents for supposedly lacking vigor, from "low energy" Jeb Bush to President "Sleepy Joe" Biden. So he might have found it embarrassing when multiple reporters said he appeared to be falling asleep in the courtroom.

Trump glared at New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman for several seconds on Monday afternoon, after she reported earlier that she saw his head repeatedly drop down and his mouth go slack. Haberman has a long history of reporting on Trump, including through her 2022 book, "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Trump's hush money trial already looks rocky for former president