Day two of Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial to resume

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Day two of Donald Trump’s unprecedented criminal trial opens in New York on Tuesday the same way the first ended -- with the defendant and US presidential hopeful being forced to watch in silence as lawyers work through the tortuous process of picking a jury.

No other ex-president in US history has been hauled before a criminal court and the trial in an unglamorous Manhattan courthouse comes as Trump is fighting to make a shock return to the White House in November’s election.

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Trump has repeatedly described the hush money case in New York as a sham -- or part of some far-reaching conspiracy theory in which Democrats are trying to stop him from taking on President Joe Biden.

But reality set in for the 77-year-old, hard-right Republican as Judge Juan Merchan issued the routine warning for criminal defendants that he will have to attend proceedings daily or face arrest.

Merchan also warned Trump against repeating his frequent past attempts to disrupt hearings with incendiary social media posts and courtroom outbursts.

Illustrating the extraordinary nature of the proceedings, potential jurors have been told they will remain anonymous to the public throughout. Merchan said this is to protect them from likely attempts at bribery or even physical harm.

But selecting 12 ordinary citizens to sit in judgment over one of the most famous -- and controversial -- figures in the country is no easy matter.

Of the first batch of 96 prospective panelists sworn in for screening on Monday, at least 50 were quickly excused after they said they could not be fair and impartial.

Nine others were allowed to leave after stating there were compelling reasons they could not serve, while remaining prospective jurors were grilled about their education, hobbies and news consumption.

That process, which will resume Tuesday at 1330 GMT, could go on as long as two weeks, according to one of Trump’s lawyers.

Trump glowering in court

On Monday, Trump sat for hours glowering and, according to reports from journalists seated behind him, at times dozing off, before suddenly paying attention again.

The scene is a long way from his customary luxury homes or the raucous rallies where adoring crowds chant his name.

“It’s a scam. It’s a political witch hunt,” Trump said leaving court on Monday. “We’ve got a real problem with this judge.”

Trump faces three other criminal cases centered on his hoarding of top-secret documents after leaving office and his unprecedented attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

Those trials are arguably weightier in content, but Trump has succeeded in forcing continued delays, meaning they may not start before the November 5 election.

In New York, the Republican is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged extramarital sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his first election campaign, in 2016, from last-minute upheaval.

Although the case is on relatively minor charges, the legal and political peril is all too real.

Merchan has indicated he will maintain strict discipline, preventing Trump from turning his appearances into impromptu campaign rallies.

The judge has already scheduled a hearing next week to consider whether Trump should be held in contempt for violating a partial gag order restricting him from attacking individuals connected to the case.

If convicted in the hush money case, Trump would potentially face prison, but legal observers say fines would be more likely. The maximum sentence would be four years for each count.

Regardless, the prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon throws an unprecedented wild card into an already unpredictable election.

On top of it all, Trump said last week he wanted to testify -- a risky option that most lawyers would want to avoid.

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