Trump to return to criminal court for jury selection

Michael R Sisak, Jennifer Peltz, Jake Offenhartz and Allana Durkin Richer |

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsification of business records.
Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsification of business records.

Donald Trump will return to a New York courtroom as a judge works to find a panel of jurors who will decide whether the former president is guilty of criminal charges alleging he falsified business records to cover up a sex scandal during the 2016 campaign.

The first day of Trump’s history-making hush money trial in Manhattan ended with no one yet chosen to be on the panel of 12 jurors and six alternates.

Dozens of people were dismissed on Monday after saying they did not believe they could be fair, though dozens of other prospective jurors have yet to be questioned.

It’s the first of Trump’s four criminal cases to go to trial and may be the only one that could reach a verdict before voters decide in November whether the presumptive Republican presidential nominee should return to the White House.

It puts Trump’s legal problems at the centre of the closely contested race against President Joe Biden, with Trump painting himself as the victim of a politically motivated justice system working to deprive him of another term.

Former president Donald Trump sits in Manhattan criminal court
Trump called the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg a “scam” and “witch hunt”. (AP PHOTO)

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged effort to keep salacious – and, he says, bogus – stories about his sex life from emerging during his 2016 campaign.

On Monday, Trump called the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg a “scam” and “witch hunt”.

The charges centre on $US130,000 ($A200,000) in payments that Trump’s company made to his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen.

He paid that sum on Trump’s behalf to keep porn actor Stormy Daniels from going public with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

Trump has denied the sexual encounter ever happened.

Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen were falsely logged as legal fees.

Prosecutors have described it as part of a scheme to bury damaging stories Trump feared could help his opponent in the 2016 race, particularly as Trump’s reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.

Members of the media gather outside Manhattan Criminal Court
Members of the media gather outside court before Trump returns for his hush-money trial. (AP PHOTO)

Trump has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for the payment and that it was designed to stop Daniels from going public about the alleged encounter.

But Trump has previously said it had nothing to do with the campaign.

Jury selection could take several more days – or even weeks – in the heavily Democratic city where Trump grew up and catapulted to celebrity status decades before winning the White House.

Only about a third of the 96 people in the first panel of potential jurors brought into the courtroom on Monday remained after the judge excused some members.

More than half of the group was excused after telling the judge they could not be fair and impartial and several others were dismissed for other reasons that were not disclosed.

Another group of more than 100 potential jurors sent to the courthouse on Monday was not yet brought into the courtroom for questioning.

AP