Two jurors, one too frightened to serve, excused from Trump hush money trial

NEW YORK — Two jurors in the Donald Trump hush money trial were excused Thursday, one after telling the court she was too scared and intimidated to serve, as prosecutors renewed their request to hold Trump in criminal contempt over alleged gag order violations.

The first juror, one of seven initially chosen to serve on the case, told Judge Juan Merchan that she was too scared to proceed after her friends, family and colleagues guessed that she had been chosen. Merchan has ruled that the jurors will be anonymous to protect their safety and privacy.

The second juror was excused after prosecutors raised questions about a juror who Tuesday had called Trump “fascinating and mysterious” — after discovering a man with the same name was arrested for tearing down right-wing political posters in the ‘90s. The juror was later excused after a minutes-long sidebar inaudible to members of the media in the courtroom.

As jury selection continued Thursday morning, half of a new panel of prospective jurors — 48 of the 96 total people — said they could not be impartial toward the former president and were excused. As they left the courtroom, Trump turned his head to stare at them.

Nine additional jurors were excused after they said they couldn’t serve on the jury for other reasons.

Shortly after Trump arrived at the courthouse with his Secret Service entourage for the third day of his trial Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy told the court that Trump had violated a gag order preventing comments about jurors, witnesses and other trial participants seven times since he last got in trouble for doing so.

“It’s ridiculous, it has to stop,” Conroy said.

“Most disturbing,” the prosecutor said, was a post that went up on Trump’s Truth Social account Wednesday night quoting Fox News host Jesse Watters commenting on the jury.

Merchan, on Monday, scheduled a hearing for next week to address Trump’s other potential violations of the gag order. Conroy said the prosecution was seeking monetary sanctions and “still considering our options.”

In response to the prosecution’s request, Trump lawyer Emil Bove, who has been handling his appeals, said the posts in question — including Watters’ description of the panelists as “liberal activists” and links to articles calling witness Michael Cohen a “serial perjurer” — did not “establish any willful violations.”

The attorney said Trump was criticizing Cohen from the perspective of defending himself as a political candidate, not a defendant. He countered that Trump reposting something was not violating the gag order.

The case so far

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsification of New York business records alleging that throughout 2017, after winning the presidency, he disguised reimbursement to his former lawyer, Cohen, for facilitating a hush money scheme to defraud the 2016 electorate that violated election laws.

Among the alleged recipients of the scheme expected to testify are porn star Stormy Daniels — who Cohen went to prison for paying off — and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who each allege Trump cheated on Melania Trump with them in 2006, soon after they wed. Trump denies the allegations.

Prospective jurors have faced questions such as: “Do you have any strong opinions or firmly held beliefs about whether a former president may be criminally charged in state court?” and “Do you have any opinions about the legal limits governing political contributions?”

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee is set to spend the next two months in his native New York to attend the case as his campaign schedule and court calendar collide.

The Manhattan charges are among 88 he’s battling inside state and federal courtrooms across four states. They contain allegations dating from the year before he took office — when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges the hush money scheme started with a meeting at Trump Tower — to the year he left.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and says he is a victim of political persecution akin to the late South African President Nelson Mandela.