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Trump's trials update


The first week of former President Donald Trump's hush money trial concluded yesterday with the selection of a jury. Each potential juror had to answer dozens of questions to prove they could remain fair and impartial when weighing the fate of the former president. NPR's Domenico Montanaro spoke with University of Baltimore law professor Kim Wehle about the trial and began by asking how confident Trump's lawyers should be with this jury.

KIM WEHLE: It's impossible to get inside someone's mind and really get a sense of whether there's a bias there. And in a way, the jury system asks something artificial of the process. You know, we know just in being human, it's impossible sometimes to set aside feelings. That being said, they each had 10 peremptory challenges, and you've got to use those wisely and presumably, you know, use them to get the really egregious people in their mind off the jury. That being said, you know, this is - if we ever see the trial in Mar-a-Lago in Florida go forward, it's going to be a very different pool.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: So you had hundreds of people come through. You know, you had many, anyway, saying that they do think that they can be impartial. Do you think the former president's going to get a fair trial here? He's certainly complained that he feels like he can't.

WEHLE: You know, I think part of his sort of public media campaign is to suggest that the system of justice is corrupt and against him. And there are so many protections in place for a criminal defendant like Donald Trump. First of all, he has, you know, he has a team of really good lawyers. Most people in the criminal justice system don't have that. And of course, there are the Fourth, the Fifth, the Sixth Amendment. There are constitutional protections, and there's a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. There are appeals, so he's protected like most people are not.

And the jury system, on the one hand, there's flaws, but on the other, it's kind of inherently democratic in a way other things aren't in our system. That is, these are regular people who the power of the law is put in their hands. It's not elected officials. It's not judges. It's not prosecutors. It's regular folks, Manhattanites that live in the community that, really, Donald Trump hails from. And in a way, that's a very humbling process, and I think that's something bracing to watch, how he's being brought to kind of the regular people for some assessment and accountability in this moment.

MONTANARO: All right. Well, you know, looking ahead to next week, Kim, on Monday, we're expected to see opening arguments much faster than we thought that we would. What should we expect there?

WEHLE: Well, first of all, we know the judge is going to rule on what kind of prior bad acts or prior convictions, frankly, or jury verdicts in the E. Jean Carroll case, the judge's civil fraud determination, whether those things can be used on cross-examination if Donald Trump decides to testify. And then I think we will hear, obviously, the opening statements, and they will lay out the story and make the case that this matters, make the case that this is something that rises to the level that could deprive someone - that is, the criminal defendant here - of his liberty. Each of these counts carries up to four years in prison, and that's a tall order. And it's a, you know, it's a grave responsibility on their part.

For the defense, they're going to have to lay out how they're going to poke holes in the government's case. I think they will suggest and they'll go after Michael Cohen as somebody who cannot be trusted, try to create doubt about whether Donald Trump was involved in this. And remember, all they need is one juror to agree with their side or to have enough doubt that they're just not willing to join everyone else and convict. So in any criminal trial, this is another mechanism by which fairness is imposed. Really, the burden of proof is on the government.

LIMBONG: That was NPR's Domenico Montanaro speaking with University of Baltimore law professor Kim Wehle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.