Friday, April 19, 2024

A jury is picked as Donald Trump and his MAGA allies help create an environment of fear and intimidation around the hush-money trial at New York courthouse


A jury has been selected for Donald Trump's hush-money trial in New York, but court observers remain concerned that Trump's MAGA allies might target jurors for intimidation, possibly putting their safety at risk, according to a report from Axios. Under the headline "Trump jurors face MAGA's microscope," politics reporter Erin Doherty writes:

One of the first jurors seated in former President Trump's historic criminal trial was dismissed Thursday after expressing concerns about being publicly identified.

Why it matters: With the People of New York v. Trump set to be one of the most high-profile and politically charged cases in U.S. history, the conditions for keeping 18 jurors anonymous — and safe — could not be more challenging.

Driving the news: Court reporters have been live-blogging the profiles of prospective jurors all week, including broad physical descriptions, recent employment, where they get their news and where in Manhattan they live.

  • Juror No. 2, who was dismissed Thursday, said she was already facing questions from friends and family after basic details — including her work as an oncology nurse and residence on the Upper East Side — circulated online.
  • "[A]lthough they are intending to keep the jurors' identities anonymous, it may not be completely possible," Cornell Law professor Valerie Hans, a leading expert on the jury system, told Axios.
  • Even in a city of 8.4 million, intense public scrutiny and obsessive online sleuthing — enabled by social media platforms — have made it far easier to narrow down the jury pool than in past celebrity trials.

Trump himself certainly is not doing anything to help matters; in fact, he appears to be the lighting rod surrounding possible intimidation of jurors. Do you think he cares about juror safety? (Don't make me laugh.) Doherty writes:

Zoom in: Trump's constant posting about the case, as well as targeted campaigns by his allies online and in conservative media, have raised significant security concerns.

  • Like other networks, Fox News' Jesse Watters aired a segment Tuesday that highlighted extensive details about Juror No. 2, including her neighborhood, occupation, marital and family status.
  • "They are catching undercover Liberal Activists lying to the Judge in order to get on the Trump Jury," Trump claimed in a post on Truth Social, quoting Watters.
  • Prosecutors cited the post as one of seven alleged violations of Trump's gag order on Thursday.

Between the lines: The simple fact of Trump's presence during jury selection has also had an impact on some jurors.

  • "One potential People v. Trump juror became so anxious after laying eyes on Trump she started chewing on the corner of her jury service card," a pool report revealed on Wednesday.

Judge Juan Merchan is taking some extraordinary, and possibly unlawful, measures in an effort to maintain control over a case involving a high-profile defendant who, so far, seems imperious to control. Doherty writes:

The intrigue: Judge Merchan, who is overseeing the New York trial, directed reporters on Thursday not to publish physical descriptions of the jurors.

  • "There's a reason why this is an anonymous jury and why we've taken the measures that we have taken," he said after dismissing Juror No. 2. "It kind of defeats the purpose of that when so much information is put out there."
  • Merchan last month barred the public release of juror names, but his order allowed legal teams and the defendant to know their identities.
  • Some journalists have expressed concerns about Merchan's attempt to block certain reporting about the jurors, arguing that the public has a right to know what's going on inside the courtroom.

The journalists' concerns are valid, and they are driven by the presence of a thuggish defendant who has shown little respect for the rule of law during his time in politics. -- and he somehow has attracted followers who apparently think it is their duty to keep an eye on legal and electoral proceedings and possibly take the law into their own hands. As with just about anything involving Trump, the situation has become toxic, with a possible explosion coming at almost any moment. From the Axios report:

The big picture: The threat of political violence has become an increasingly common theme in the Trump era.

  • Judges in Trump-related legal cases have seen a dramatic increase in threats directed at them and members of their family, according to a Reuters analysis.
  • Officials from the Fulton County Sheriff's Office investigated online threats against the grand jurors who voted to indict Trump in the Georgia 2020 election case.

The bottom line: "Yeah, I'm worried about their safety," former federal prosecutor Ankush Khardori told CNN earlier this week. "They shouldn't be outed this way. They're not supposed to be outed this way."

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