NEW YORK, Oct 25 (Reuters) – A prosecutor in Donald Trump’s corporate tax evasion trial told potential jurors on Tuesday that the government’s star witness – a longtime Trump Organization executive – may be “reluctant” to answer questions, while some jury candidates were fired after expressing contempt for the former US president.
“I can’t deny that I really, really don’t like Trump. Yes, I hate him,” said a prospective juror – a woman who Judge Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing the trial, later fired on the second day. of the jury. selection by a New York State court.
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told 18 jury candidates that former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who will testify for the prosecution, is still employed by the real estate company.
“Some of the witnesses work for the defendants, so they might be a little reluctant to answer questions,” Steinglass said. “One of the witnesses I’m talking about is Allen Weisselberg.”
Steinglass asked potential jurors if they would discount Weisselberg’s testimony because he was hoping for a lighter sentence. None of them indicated that would be a factor. Weisselberg has been promised a five-month prison sentence if he testifies honestly at trial.
The District Attorney’s Office last year accused the Trump Organization and Weisselberg for providing “off-the-books” benefits to certain senior executives, allowing some employees to understate their taxable compensation and the company to evade payroll taxes.
In August, Weisselberg pleaded guilty to robbery and tax evasion charges, while admitting to concealing $1.76 million in income. Weisselberg agreed to testify against the company at trial as part of his plea deal.
Trump, who is considering another presidential bid in 2024, has not been charged in the case, which he called politically motivated.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys moved toward selecting a 12-member jury on Tuesday, with seven selected by early afternoon. Both parties wonder about the future jurors on topics ranging from their views on Trump to their views on taxation.
Lawyers for the Trump Organization pressed potential jurors — all heavily Democratic Manhattan residents — about whether their opinions of the former Republican president would affect their ability to decide the case fairly and impartially.
A potential juror said she did not vote for Trump and “would have chosen other Supreme Court justices” but said she could remain fair and unbiased. She was chosen as a juror.
A would-be juror who called Trump a “criminal” was removed from office by the judge at the behest of the Trump Organization.
“I think Mr. Trump has no morals,” the man said, while adding that he thought he could be fair in the matter because it was allegedly “insignificant” conduct by compared to other Trump actions.
“I think he’s a criminal. I think he’s done irreparable damage to this country,” the man added.
The Trump Organization, which operates hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world, could face fines of up to $1.6 million for the three counts of tax evasion and six other counts she faces. The company pleaded not guilty.
Weisselberg refused to cooperate with Manhattan prosecutors in their investigation, only agreeing to testify as required by his plea agreement.
He has worked for the company for nearly half a century. Weisselberg went from chief financial officer to senior adviser after he and the company were indicted. After pleading guilty, Weisselberg was placed on paid leave, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Trump Organization, after his guilty plea, called Weisselberg “a good and honorable man.”
“Reluctant or not, Mr. Weisselberg will answer all questions honestly,” Nicholas Gravante, a lawyer for Weisselberg, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder
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