Trump Organization's tax-fraud trial sees jurors excused by the dozen

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Jury selection in the tax fraud case against the Trump Organization saw prospective jurors excused by the dozen after the judge read out a list of people who might be called as witnesses or simply be mentioned during the trial.

Donald Trump, his older sons and his daughter Ivanka are among those who may be called to testify or whose names may come up at the trial, in which prosecutors will try to show that the family firm routinely understated its tax exposure by paying senior executives with perks like company cars and rent-free apartments. Trump has described the prosecution, by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, as "the greatest witch hunt in American history."

The subject of the trial may have played a role in the many juror requests to be sent home. By midafternoon Monday in New York state court in Manhattan, a pool of more than 130 prospects had been slashed to just over 60. The remaining potential jurors include a retired university professor, a bartender, a former Salvation Army employee who meditates in her spare time, and a reporter for NBC News whose father was a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office before becoming a criminal defense lawyer.

Donald Trump, center, speaks as his sons Donald Trump Jr., left, and Eric Trump, right, listen during a 2016 campaign rally in Las Vegas.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

On the list the judge read out, the former president, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump were joined by former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who has since become a voluble critic of his ex-boss and in 2019 testified to Congress against the firm over its treatment of asset valuations. The list also included Trump Organization Controller Jeff McConney, longtime Trump personal executive assistant Rhona Graff and former chief operating officer Matthew Calamari.

It isn't yet clear who will actually be called to testify, but one witness certain to appear is ex-chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg, 75, made a plea deal with prosecutors that requires him to testify truthfully, in exchange for a lighter sentence. His guilty plea left the business itself as the only defendant in the case.

The trial, which could kick off with opening statements as soon as this week and is expected to last about six weeks, threatens to reveal the inner workings of the real estate empire that set Trump on his path to the White House.

Jury selection continues on Tuesday.

The case is People v. Trump Organization, 01473-2021, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan). 

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