On Monday morning, roughly 130 potential jurors were screened as part of the criminal tax fraud trial against the Trump Organization, which will determine whether or not the former president’s namesake corporation committed crimes.
Justice Juan Merchan of the New York Supreme Court warned prospective jurors that the trial may go up to six weeks. He briefed them on the allegations and then began meeting with dozens of people one-on-one in a separate room, where possible panelists who had raised concerns with him explained why they now felt they could not serve.
Several news outlets were protesting Merchan’s decision to bar press attendance during the individual screening phase of the proceeding.
Post-trial voir dire continued in the courtroom with additional questioning of prospective jurors. On Tuesday, the process of selecting a jury will likely continue.
Merchan read aloud the names of potential witnesses and those who might be named during testimony before the individual sessions began. This included former president Donald Trump and other firm officials. Along with his longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg and his family, the list included Trump’s three adult children Ivanka, Donald Trump Jr., and Eric Trump. Some of the Trump Organization’s benefits, such as cars and apartments, are rumored to have gone to his family, but no one in his family has been accused of wrongdoing.
It is expected that Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty in August to 15 counts related to an alleged long-term fraud scheme within the organization, will be a key witness against the company and will discuss his role as the orchestrator of an operation involving untaxed compensation for Trump Organization executives. By not include the perks he received from the corporation as part of his reported remuneration, he was able to avoid paying over $1 million in taxes.
Prosecutors seek to use his evidence, which is intended to be confined to his direct involvement, to show that the firm bears responsibility for his actions. He has already refused to testify against Trump in other ongoing investigations by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Weisselberg will likely receive a suspended five-month term in exchange for his testimony. Previously, he was looking at a maximum of 15 years in prison.
On Monday, potential jurors were asked to inform the court of any conflicts they had with the list of names or if they had “a real good faith cause based purely on what you’ve heard up to this point about the case” for declining to serve. About half of the initial 130 were eliminated in this way.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg of Manhattan has stated that he is still assessing whether Trump committed crimes by altering the value of his assets to obtain preferential loan and interest rates or by depreciating his assets to decrease his tax liability. Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, has filed a fraud suit against Trump, his children, and Weisselberg over this alleged business strategy.
Even while the former president confronts investigations and judicial processes related to allegations of election fraud, the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and other commercial and personal entanglements, the Trump Organization is on trial.
The House committee probing the events leading up to January 6 has subpoenaed Trump to testify, and the Justice Department is examining whether Trump and his staff improperly hoarded confidential papers at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and estate in Palm Beach.