Judge in hush money trial admonishes Trump after he appears to speak during questioning of a prospective juror

The first jurors were selected for Donald Trump’s hush money trial Tuesday amid a battle over prospective jurors’ old Facebook posts and calls to “lock him up” and a judge’s warning that the former president should not try to intimidate the panelists who will be deciding his fate.

“I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom. I want to make this crystal clear,” Judge Juan Merchan told Trump and his lawyer Todd Blanche outside of the juror’s presence. The judge told Blanche his client was “audibly” saying something in the direction of the juror while she was “12 feet away from your client.”

Merchan said he didn’t know what Trump was saying, but that he’d been “muttering” and “gesturing” at the juror, and directed Blanche to talk to his client about his behavior. Blanche then whispered something into Trump’s ear.

The drama came on the second day of jury selection after Blanche complained that some of the potential jurors they’d been questioning weren’t as fair-minded as they represented themselves to be.

“There’s a number of the jurors that we have social media posts for that are very much contrary” to what they said while they were being asked if they could be impartial, Blanche told the judge, and he sought to have them struck for cause.

He said one person had “extraordinarily caustic Facebook posts.” He noted the juror — whose name is not public but is known to Trump, his lawyers and prosecutors — had posted a video from the day where Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election.

In the video, the woman says, “I have to get in the car and spread the honking cheers. There’s an actual dance party on 96th Street.”

Trump’s lawyers contended the video would have been referring to an anti-Trump rally. The woman had denied taking part in any rally or campaign events during her initial round of questioning.

Called in for individual questioning, she said it was a “celebratory moment” in the city and that she could be impartial.

After chiding Trump for his behavior towards her, Merchan said he found her “credible” and refused to strike her for cause.

Another juror, however, was removed after Trump’s attorneys resurfaced old tweets from 2017, where the man said “Good news!! Trump lost his court battle on his unlawful travel ban!!!” “Get him out and lock him up,” one of the tweets read.

The quest to find a jury of 12 people and six alternates who could be “fair and impartial” when it comes to the polarizing New York native and former commander-in-chief was otherwise moving at a brisker pace Tuesday.

“Everyone and their mother has an opinion about this case, and what the right outcome should be,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told the group of potential jurors who made it past the initial round of questions from the judge. “We need jurors who can set aside strong feelings and focus on evidence.”

“It is not a referendum on the Trump presidency or a popularity contest,” Steinglass said. “This case is about whether this man broke the law,” he said, gesturing to Trump.

“Can you all separate believability, and likability?” he added later, seeming to preview what their opening statements might look like. The prospective jurors indicated they could.

Blanche asked some of the jurors their feelings about his client, a question some tried to sidestep.

One answered “That’s not important,” while another said, “I’m here to judge the facts that are presented and not the individual.”

Trump sat listening to the responses from the group of everyday New Yorkers, some of whom discussed their friends’ negative opinions of him, while another recalled watching his old NBC show “The Apprentice” in middle school. Another said, “I find him fascinating!” “He walks into a room and he sets people off one way or another,” the potential juror said, adding “he makes things interesting.”

The individual questioning came after a handful of potential jurors said they couldn’t serve because they didn’t think they could be impartial. They included a man who suggested he couldn’t be impartial because he’s from Texas, in finance and grew up around Republicans. “I believe I have some unconscious bias,” he said. A second juror was excused after telling the judge that she had done some thinking overnight and decided, “I can’t be impartial and unbiased.”

Among those who did make it past the initial round of questioning was a man who works for a software company. The prospective juror said he followed Trump on Twitter when he was president and had read two of his books, including “The Art of the Deal,” which resulted in a big smile and nods from Trump.

politics political politician (Jane Rosenberg / Pool via AP)

politics political politician (Jane Rosenberg / Pool via AP)

Shortly before walking into the courtroom, Trump told reporters he had done nothing wrong and attacked Merchan as a “Trump-hating judge.” He also complained that the case is keeping him off the presidential trail: “I should be, right now, in Pennsylvania, in Florida, in many other states.”

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, is required to be in attendance for the trial, which is projected to last six to eight weeks. He has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records related to a hush money payment to a porn star during the closing days of the 2016 presidential election. The low-level felony is punishable by up to four years in prison.

Jury selection got off to a slow start Monday, with more than half of the 96 potential jurors summoned to the Manhattan courtroom said they couldn’t be “fair and impartial” when it comes to Trump.

Merchan has estimated the jury selection process will take one to two weeks. The trial doesn’t sit on Wednesdays, so the process will resume on Thursday. The trial is also expected to break for Passover, which begins next week.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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