By TOM HAYS, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Potential jurors in the criminal trial of Donald Trump’s inaugural committee chair have been quizzed by the judge on a tricky topic: What do they think of the former president?
The question came up this week during jury selection at the New York City trial of wealthy businessperson Tom Barrack, who is accused of working as an unregistered agent of the United Arab Emirates to influence the president’s foreign policy.
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan told prospective jurors Trump’s name would come up often at the trial, and even floated the idea that he might testify. Cogan pressed them on whether they could be fair in a case infused with politics and shadowy international business dealings.
Some potential jurors said it was asking too much because of their distaste for the former president.
“To be frank, I don’t think so,” one man said when asked whether could remain impartial. “For the sake of the trial, I could, but it would be challenging.”
Asked the same question, another replied, “That would be tough. That would be difficult.”
A woman survived the cut in the first round of questioning despite being called out about her answer on a questionnaire asking her to name a public figure that she least admired and why: “Donald Trump. No explanation needed.”
When the judge told her, “I’m going to need a little more explanation than that,” she insisted she could set aside her feelings and be a fair juror.
There were some Trump supporters in the pool of potential jurors, including one man who said he liked the former president because he was “a strong backer of Israel.” Others claimed they had no opinion about Trump at all.
Jury selection continued Tuesday. Opening statements could begin as soon as Wednesday once the lawyers and judge settle on a final panel of jurors.
Barrack, a close personal friend of Trump for decades, raised $107 million for Trump’s inaugural celebration following the 2016 election. The event was scrutinized both for its lavish spending and for attracting foreign officials and businesspeople looking to lobby the new administration.
Barrack was arrested last year and released on $250 million bail.
The Los Angeles-based private equity manager was a key figure in UAE investments in a tech fund and real estate totaling $374 million. Prosecutors say that while he was nurturing those business deals, Barrack helped UAE leaders influence Trump during his campaign for president and after he was elected.
Those efforts included drafting a speech for Trump that praised a member of the country’s royal family, passing information back to the Emiratis about how senior U.S. officials felt about a boycott of Qatar, and promising to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates if he were appointed as an ambassador or envoy to the Middle East.
Such an appointment “would give ABU DHABI more power!” Barrack wrote in one message obtained by federal prosecutors.
Barrack has said he is innocent. His lawyers said his contacts with the Emirates were not a secret and had been disclosed to Trump’s campaign and administration.
As he arrived at the courthouse Monday for the start of jury selection, Barrack told reporters he had faith jurors would acquit him.
“I believe in the system,” he said.
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