July 19, 2024

The final jurors for Donald J. Trump’s criminal trial were selected on Friday, with lawyers preparing to offer opening statements on Monday in a landmark proceeding that was suddenly overshadowed at midday by the spectacle of a man setting himself aflame outside the courthouse.

Five Manhattan residents were chosen Friday, filling out a group of 12 seated jurors and six alternates who will hear accusations from the Manhattan district attorney’s office that Mr. Trump sought to cover up a sex scandal that could have imperiled his 2016 run for president.

The day was marked by an intensity of emotion from the start. Several prospective jurors asked to be excused, and some became upset, with one saying she had become too nervous to continue the process.

Then word quietly began to spread about the man who had set himself on fire in a park across the street from the courthouse. The courtroom proceedings continued, but the stir was noticeable, and reporters ran from the room.

The motivations of the man, whom city officials identified as Max Azzarello, 37, of St. Augustine, Fla., were not immediately clear, but he was carrying leaflets espousing antigovernment conspiracy theories. He was hospitalized and died on Friday night.

An afternoon hearing at which the judge was to determine the questions prosecutors could ask the former president if he were to testify proceeded as scheduled.

Mr. Trump, 77, is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in relation to his effort to silence a porn star, Stormy Daniels, who in 2016 was seeking to sell her story of having had sex with Mr. Trump a decade earlier. The former president denies her claim and has pleaded not guilty, harshly criticizing the case, the first time a U.S. president has faced a criminal trial.

The selection of the final alternates capped a whirlwind week that captured the attention of a crush of media and a smattering of protesters who descended on the Criminal Courts Building in Lower Manhattan.

The courthouse was subject to heavy security as Mr. Trump came and went from the courtroom, stopping only to attack the case and the judge overseeing it, Juan M. Merchan, as well as Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney.

Those attacks continued on Friday, as a defiant Mr. Trump, as has become his custom during the trial’s first week, used the hallway outside the courtroom to address reporters and a pool camera.

“This is a rigged trial,” Mr. Trump said, attacking Mr. Bragg and complaining about not being able to campaign because he is in court. “It’s very unfair. And people know it’s very unfair.”

Still, Mr. Trump’s legal efforts have been an uphill climb. Even as jury selection was concluding, Mr. Trump filed an appeal for another emergency pause of the trial, arguing that the case should be stopped until a full panel rules on his bid to move the trial out of Manhattan. An appeals court judge denied the request.

Justice Merchan seemed weary of the defense’s efforts to continually file motions that might delay the trial.

“There comes a point where you accept my rulings,” he said during his own hearing on Friday to decide what subjects prosecutors can confront Mr. Trump with should he decide to testify.

Prosecutors asked Justice Merchan’s permission to cross-examine the former president about recent lawsuits he has lost, as well as attacks he has made on women. The judge said he would rule on the matter on Monday.

The criminal trial has moved more quickly than many people expected. Some observers initially believed jury selection could take as long as two weeks, but Justice Merchan, sometimes keeping the parties later than normal and seemingly intent on treating the case like any other, was able to fill the jury box in half that time.

Still, the divisiveness that has accompanied Mr. Trump’s political career was evident in the jury selection process: Scores of potential jurors said they simply could not be impartial. One, a nurse, was seated on the jury and then decided she could not be fair, adding that she had become alarmed by the early press coverage and by people divining her identity. Another seated juror was disqualified after prosecutors raised questions about his credibility.

Prosecutors have indicated that they intend to minimize Mr. Trump’s celebrity, saying in court this week that he is “just like any other defendant in any other criminal case,” while acknowledging the strong feelings he inspires.

“It’s not a referendum on the Trump presidency or a popularity contest or any indication of who you are going to vote for in November,” said one prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, while addressing jurors on Tuesday. “We don’t care.”

The defense is expected to attack the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses aggressively, particularly Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who made the payment to Ms. Daniels and pleaded guilty in 2018 to breaking campaign finance and other federal laws.

During jury selection the defense lawyers have focused intently on potential jurors’ opinions about Mr. Trump, echoing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s lifelong obsession with “fairness.”

“It’s extraordinarily important to President Trump that we know that we’re going to get a fair shake,” Todd Blanche, his lead lawyer, said.

Mr. Trump has made his displeasure over the trial apparent, with a constant barrage of online attacks on Mr. Cohen, several of which have been highlighted by prosecutors, who say the former president has violated a gag order issued by Justice Merchan 10 separate times.

The order forbids attacks on witnesses, prosecutors, jurors and court staff members, as well as their relatives and relatives of the judge. The judge plans a hearing on Tuesday to consider whether Mr. Trump has violated the gag order.

Justice Merchan has also expressed concern about juror safety, saying on Thursday that he would prohibit reporters from revealing information about the current and past employment histories of jurors and potential jurors.

He pleaded with reporters not to reveal physical characteristics that might identify them, asking journalists to “refrain from writing about anything that you observe with your eyes and hear with your ears related to the jurors that’s not on the record.”

Mr. Trump’s demeanor has generally been subdued, and he appeared to doze off on several occasions. Outside court, he repeatedly addressed reporters in brief spurts at the beginning and end of his days in court, calling the trial a “witch hunt.” (On Thursday, he also commiserated with reporters about the courtroom being cold, a problem that has been acknowledged by the judge.)

The former president has also been active on his Truth Social platform in describing how he feels he is being victimized in the Manhattan proceedings and insisting that he is entitled to immunity in a federal case charging him with illegally trying to overturn the 2020 election.

The Manhattan case is the first to go trial out of four criminal indictments Mr. Trump faces, and it may be the only one to go to trial before the November election. Two federal cases — one involving his hoarding of classified documents, the other stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election — and a state case concerning election interference in Georgia are mired in delays and pretrial litigation.

As the final jurors were selected on Friday, the gravity of the looming testimony — and the impact the eventual verdict could have on the presidential race, and the nation as a whole — seemed to shake some who had been called to the courthouse to do their civic duty.

One potential juror found herself overcome while facing questions from a defense lawyer and asked to be excused.

“This is so much more stressful than I thought it was going to be,” she said.

Maggie Haberman, Kate Christobek and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

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