Day 2: Judge scolds Trump at his New York criminal trial

Ken Bredemeier
11 Min Read

A New York judge scolded former U.S. President Donald Trump at his criminal trial on Tuesday when Trump was audibly dismissive of a prospective juror’s explanation of why she videotaped a street celebration of Trump’s 2020 reelection loss.

New York County Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan reprimanded Trump after his defense lawyer, Todd Blanche, unsuccessfully sought to remove the woman from being included on the jury because she had posted the street scene video on social media.

Merchan told Blanche to explain to the defendant that “I will not tolerate that. I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom.”

Then, after the would-be juror left the courtroom, Merchan rebuked Trump for his behavior. Merchan said Trump was “audibly uttering something” and “gesturing” and “speaking in her direction.”

The woman told Merchan she recalled seeing people dancing in the street as President Joe Biden defeated Trump and described it as a “celebratory moment in New York City.” The woman said if she is seated on the jury, she would not let the 2020 moment affect her judgment.

“I very, very strongly believe that regardless of my thoughts about anyone or anything or my political feelings, the job of juror is to understand the facts of the trial and be the judge of the facts.” she said.

The woman noted that on Monday, “people walked out because they thought they couldn’t” judge the case fairly. “I don’t believe that about myself at all.”

12 jurors, 6 alternates needed

The courtroom drama came as Merchan began picking 12 jurors and six alternates to hear the first-ever criminal case against a former U.S. president.

By late afternoon, seven of the 12 jurors had been selected.

Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential candidate against Biden in the November 5 election, is accused of scheming to hide hush money payments to cover up alleged extramarital affairs just ahead of his successful 2016 campaign for the White House.

In one other juror challenge, Merchan sided with Blanche, dismissing a would-be juror who celebrated on Facebook that early in Trump’s presidency he lost a court case challenging his ban on Muslims entering the U.S. The prospective juror said Trump should be jailed.

Earlier, Merchan dismissed several prospective jurors when they acknowledged they could not judge the case fairly.

Before arriving for the second day of the trial, Trump complained on the X media platform about Merchan, saying, “This conflicted, Trump Hating Judge won’t let me respond to people that are on TV lying and spewing hate all day long. He is running roughshod over my lawyers and legal team.”

The sentiment expressed by the would-be jurors is perhaps not surprising. Biden defeated Trump by an 85% to 15% margin in the 2020 election in Manhattan, the New York City borough where the trial is occurring, and the names of possible jurors were drawn randomly from the list of registered voters.

With such opposition to Trump in the city where he lived a celebrity-filled life and presided over his real estate conglomerate before entering politics in 2015, it could take days to seat the jury along with six alternates.

Trump has routinely attacked Merchan for his rulings in the case. He complained Monday that the jurist did not immediately agree to adjourn the case on May 17 so he could attend his son Barron’s high school graduation in Florida.

Merchan has asked New Yorkers in the jury pool about the news outlets on which they read or hear the news of the day, their marital status, whether they have children and where they work.

Judge questions prospective jurors

Merchan has hundreds more prospective jurors waiting in the courthouse to be vetted, if needed. The judge has a list of 42 questions. When he finished questioning 18 would-be jurors, prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers took their turn.

The lawyers, by Merchan’s edict, could not ask the would-be jurors whether they voted for or against Trump in his 2016 and 2020 campaigns or about their political party registrations.

Nonetheless, Blanche tried to elicit one prospective juror’s opinion about the country’s 45th president. But the man refused several times to talk about it, saying it had “absolutely no bearing on the case.” The would-be juror finally said he was a Democrat but did not elaborate.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked one woman whether she could put aside whatever she had heard or read about the case. She said she regularly blocks off two full days to ignore the news, adding, “I really haven’t followed this exact case.”

The trial is a moment unlike any in U.S. history, with Trump the first former U.S. chief executive ever to face criminal charges and the threat of imprisonment if he is convicted.

The former president is watching the proceedings from the defendant’s table flanked by his lawyers, taking some notes and occasionally glancing at the prospective jurors. He appeared to doze off at some points in the Monday afternoon proceedings before jolting alert again.

Eventually, he could take the witness stand to defend himself, depending on how he and his lawyers view the prosecutors’ evidence.

Since Trump is required to be in court, the case almost certainly will limit the 77-year-old candidate’s time on the campaign trail.

Charges explained

Trump stands accused of hiding a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just ahead of the 2016 election to keep her from publicly talking about her claim that she had a one-night tryst with him at a celebrity golf tournament a decade earlier, less than four months after Trump’s wife, Melania, had given birth to Barron, now 18.

In a second instance, the indictment alleges that a former Playboy Playmate of the Year, Karen McDougal, says she had a monthslong affair with Trump and was paid $150,000 by a tabloid publisher who bought the rights to her story and then, at Trump’s urging, killed the article.

Trump has denied both affairs and all 34 charges he faces in the New York case, including that he directed his one-time political fixer, convicted perjurer Michael Cohen, to make the payment to Daniels and then reimbursed him during the first year of his presidency in 2017 — all the while labeling the monthly stipends to Cohen in Trump’s business records as legal expenses.


FILE – Judge Juan M. Merchan is pictured in his chambers in New York, March 14, 2024.

As he arrived for the second day of the trial, Trump told reporters, “I was paying a lawyer and marked it down as a legal expense. That’s exactly what it was.”

Altering his company’s ledgers would be a misdemeanor offense, but to convict Trump of a more serious felony, prosecutors will have to convince jurors he committed an underlying crime, such as trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by keeping information about the alleged affairs from voters.

It is not illegal to pay hush money, and Trump may claim the payments were made simply to avoid disclosure of personally compromising moments of his life, not to try to influence the 2016 election.

The eventual 12-member jury will have to reach a unanimous decision of either a guilty verdict or acquittal. If the jurors fail to agree among themselves, there would be what is called a “hung jury,” leaving the prosecutors to decide whether to seek a new trial.

Each of the charges carries the possibility of a four-year prison term, although Trump is certain to appeal any guilty verdict and sentence.

The New York case is one of an unprecedented four criminal indictments Trump is facing encompassing 88 charges, all of which he has denied.

Some legal analysts view the hush money case as the least consequential of the four cases he faces. But it may be the only one to go to trial before the November election.

Two of the other indictments — one state and one federal — accuse Trump of illegally trying to upend his 2020 loss, while the third alleges that he illegally took hundreds of highly classified national security documents with him to his oceanside Florida estate when his presidential term ended, and then refused requests by investigators to return them.

No firm trial dates have been set in any of those three cases, all delayed by pretrial hearings and legal arguments. Trump has sought to push the start dates until after the election. If he wins, he could seek to have the federal charges dismissed. In any event, if he assumes power again, he would not be tried during his presidency.