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

NEW YORK — Jury selection at Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial was completed Friday with the seating of five more alternates, clearing the way for prosecutors to begin making their case against the former president Monday.

Trump is accused of falsifying 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 a Trump Tower doorman.

Just after the slate of alternates was chosen, news broke of a man setting himself on fire in front of the courthouse. The man reportedly threw into the air several pamphlets that continued a QR code linking to an online manifesto, before dousing himself and lighting himself on fire.

Authorities have identified him as Maxwell Azzarello of St. Augustine, Florida.

“To my friends and family, witnesses and first responders, I deeply apologize for inflicting this pain upon you,” Azzarello wrote. “But I assure you it is a drop in the bucket compared to what our government intends to inflict.”

Despite the horrific turn of events, the trial proceeded, Al Baker, a spokesman for New York State Courts said.

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

Trump did not answer questions about the self-immolation as he entered the courtroom when proceedings resumed after 3 p.m.

Four women and one man were selected as the last alternates Friday afternoon, completing the jury selection process. The jury of 12 men and women with a total six alternates will begin hearing the case Monday.

A woman who said, “I don’t believe in watching news” was selected, as well as an audio expert who offered to help solve microphone issues in the courtroom.

Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, when Judge Juan Merchan said he also plans to rule on arguments he heard Friday about what materials the prosecution can ask Trump about if he testifies.

Earlier in the day, several prospective panelists said they felt unable to participate in such a high-stakes case.

“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.

Trump sat hunched over at the defense table, reading through paperwork as the potential jurors addressed the court.

Earlier on Friday, he returned to the lower Manhattan courthouse for the fourth day of proceedings after a jam-packed first week searching for a jury. Merchan has told jurors to plan on coming back Monday for opening statements.

The latest batch of potential jurors summoned in the case is expected to face more questions on Friday about whether they can be fair and impartial.

Trump spoke to the cameras just before 9 a.m., complaining how the gag order that requires him to stay mum on witnesses, the jury and court staff and their family makes the trial “unfair.”

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

Prosecutors have requested Trump be fined up to $1,000 for each post violating the gag order and that he be held in criminal contempt of the court. On Thursday, prosecutors said he’d violated the gag order seven times since Monday, when they first brought up the issue.

Merchan scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to settle the issue.

“The conflict has to end with the judge. The judge has a conflict, the worst I’ve ever seen,” Trump said — likely a reference to Merchan’s daughter, as he possibly toed the line of yet another possible violation of the gag order. He did not respond to a follow-up question on this.

He entered the courtroom seven minutes later.

Meanwhile, a New York appeals court judge denied another effort by Trump — the fourth in less than two weeks — to upend the planned timeline of his Manhattan trial on Friday afternoon.

First Department Associate Justice Marsha Michael denied a request by Trump’s lawyers to pause his trial until his request to move it to another location is decided.

On Thursday, by the end of proceedings, the entire jury and one alternate had all been seated, with the full pool rounded out Friday.

The seven men and five women among more than 150 people surveyed this week are poised to make history as the jurors who will consider the first-ever criminal charges filed against an American president and determine whether Trump is a felon before voters head to the polls in November.

Two of seven panelists chosen Tuesday were excused Thursday after one said she was uncomfortable serving on the high-profile case and another was found to have provided conflicting information to the court.

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.

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 and they became parents to Barron Trump. McDougal claims they were involved for several months; Daniels says it was a one-time tryst, testifying in a lawsuit the year before last that she didn’t “consider getting cornered coming out of a bathroom to be an affair.” Trump denies both women’s claims.

As he seeks the White House once again, the presumed GOP nominee is also facing three other criminal cases and a total of 88 felonies, 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. Trump has pleaded not guilty in all his cases.