Apr 18, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump jurors face MAGA's microscope

 Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his attorney Todd Blanche attend his criminal trial as jury selection continues at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 18, 2024 in New York City

Former President Trump and his attorney Todd Blanche at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 18 in New York City. Photo: Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images

One of the first jurors seated in former President Trump's historic criminal trial was dismissed Thursday after expressing concerns about being publicly identified.

Why it matters: With the People of New York v. Trump set to be one of the most high-profile and politically charged cases in U.S. history, the conditions for keeping 18 jurors anonymous — and safe — could not be more challenging.

Driving the news: Court reporters have been live-blogging the profiles of prospective jurors all week, including broad physical descriptions, recent employment, where they get their news and where in Manhattan they live.

  • Juror No. 2, who was dismissed Thursday, said she was already facing questions from friends and family after basic details — including her work as an oncology nurse and residence on the Upper East Side — circulated online.
  • "[A]lthough they are intending to keep the jurors' identities anonymous, it may not be completely possible," Cornell Law professor Valerie Hans, a leading expert on the jury system, told Axios.
  • Even in a city of 8.4 million, intense public scrutiny and obsessive online sleuthing — enabled by social media platforms — have made it far easier to narrow down the jury pool than in past celebrity trials.

Zoom in: Trump's constant posting about the case, as well as targeted campaigns by his allies online and in conservative media, have raised significant security concerns.

  • Like other networks, Fox News' Jesse Watters aired a segment Tuesday that highlighted extensive details about Juror No. 2, including her neighborhood, occupation, marital and family status.
  • "They are catching undercover Liberal Activists lying to the Judge in order to get on the Trump Jury," Trump claimed in a post on Truth Social, quoting Watters.
  • Prosecutors cited the post as one of seven alleged violations of Trump's gag order on Thursday.

Between the lines: The simple fact of Trump's presence during jury selection has also had an impact on some jurors.

  • "One potential People v. Trump juror became so anxious after laying eyes on Trump this afternoon she started chewing on the corner of her jury service card," a pool report revealed on Wednesday.

The intrigue: Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the New York trial, directed reporters on Thursday not to publish physical descriptions of the jurors.

  • "There's a reason why this is an anonymous jury and why we've taken the measures that we have taken," he said after dismissing Juror No. 2. "It kind of defeats the purpose of that when so much information is put out there."
  • Merchan last month barred the public release of juror names, but his order allowed legal teams and the defendant to know their identities.
  • Some journalists have expressed concerns about Merchan's attempt to block certain reporting about the jurors, arguing that the public has a right to know what's going on inside the courtroom.

The big picture: The threat of political violence has become an increasingly common theme in the Trump era.

  • Judges in Trump-related legal cases have seen a dramatic increase in threats directed at them and members of their family, according to a Reuters analysis.
  • Officials from the Fulton County Sheriff's Office investigated online threats against the grand jurors who voted to indict Trump in the Georgia 2020 election case.

The bottom line: "Yeah, I'm worried about their safety," former federal prosecutor Ankush Khardori told CNN earlier this week. "They shouldn't be outed this way. They're not supposed to be outed this way."

Go deeper: How celebrity lawyers would approach Trump's jury selection

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