Former President Donald Trump appears with his legal team Todd Blanche, and Emil Bove ahead of the start of jury selection at Manhattan Criminal Court, Apr. 15, 2024, in New York City. (Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump appeared in a Manhattan, New York criminal court on Monday, marking the first day of the first-ever criminal trial against a former U.S. president.

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with alleged hush money payments his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

The historic trial — which is expected to last six to eight weeks — kicked off Monday with jury selection, which is supposed to take up to two weeks.

Outside the courtroom — and throughout the day on his social media platform Truth Social — the former president was defiant, lambasting the prosecution as politically motivated. Inside the courtroom, however, he cut a different figure — reclining in his seat, arms folded, at times appearing to shut his eyes.

Hundreds of prospective jurors showed up to the courthouse Monday morning, but voir dire did not begin until late afternoon, delayed by hours of pretrial procedural matters and questions about scheduling.

Judge Juan M. Merchan began by denying a motion filed by Trump’s legal team calling for the judge to recuse himself from the case — something they’ve sought repeatedly. Merchan called Trump’s insinuations that he is biased against him unsubstantiated and said they would not address the topic again.

The jury questionnaire was also a point of contention, with Merchan rejecting a claim by Trump lawyer Todd Blanche that it contained “asymmetry” that would allow staunchly anti-Trump jurors to be selected.

There were also issues to hash out regarding what evidence could be presented during the trial. Blanche argued against the inclusion of evidence concerning Trump’s interactions with the National Enquirer and his alleged affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal — calling the matters a “sideshow” and “literally just salacious with no value” — but Merchan sided with prosecutors, saying the details were crucial to “lay the proper foundation” for the case. Trump has denied having an affair with either McDougal or Stormy Daniels.

“My ruling that we were not to play the tape was, and remains, that the tape itself is so prejudicial — to see Mr. Trump depicted, the words coming out of his mouth, the facial expressions … the tape itself should not come in,” Merchan said of the decision.

Prosecutors will, however, be permitted to read Trump’s words from the video aloud.

On Monday, prosecutors asked Judge Merchan to hold Trump in contempt and fined $3,000 for three alleged violations of the limited gag order in the case.

Prosecutors argued that three posts by the former president — related to likely witnesses Michael Cohen and Daniels, as well as a member of the prosecution team — violated the terms of the limited gag order. The gag order prohibits Trump from making public comments about potential witnesses, prospective jurors, lawyers on the case other than Bragg, and the families of both Merchan and Bragg.

Merchan set a hearing on the matter for April 23.

Just after 2:30 p.m. ET, 96 prospective jurors — some of whom craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the former president, and at least one who giggled and raised her eyebrows — were escorted into the courtroom to begin the selection process. As Merchan introduced the case, the former president turned to face the gallery, offering a tight-lipped smile.

More than half of the potential jury members were excused after they identified that they could not be fair or impartial in deciding the case. The remaining pool was questioned further, providing information about their jobs, hobbies, preferred news outlets and whether they hold any opinions of Trump that could unfairly sway them. Two witnesses were struck for cause, including a man who said the trial would interfere with his child’s wedding.

Another potential juror, a bookstore employee who lives on the Upper West Side, spoke about his feelings on the criminal justice system while answering the questionnaire.

“I believe that nobody is above the law, whether it be a former president or a sitting president or a janitor,” he said.

That particular juror was excused. No jurors were seated Monday for the trial.

The court adjourned for the day just after 4:30 p.m. and is expected to pick back up with jury selection on Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m.

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