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With a jury of 12 now seated, we are just days away from opening statements in the trial of Donald Trump, a key moment in what is already a landmark case.

After some early drama, resulting in the dismissal of two previously seated jurors, Justice Juan Merchan swore in 12 Manhattanites today, completing the panel that will be asked to render a verdict in the first criminal trial of a former American president.

“We have our jury,” said the judge at 4:35 p.m.

Merchan has signaled that he wants lawyers for both sides to prepare their opening statements for Monday morning.

There could still be roadblocks: Several alternates remain to be selected tomorrow, and as this morning’s loss of two jurors illustrates, jurors can sometimes be excused after they have already been seated.

Still, during voir dire this week, prosecutors and the defense have given some hints about what their opening statements and subsequent arguments will be. Voir dire is the part of jury selection in which lawyers directly question potential jurors, trying to detect any beliefs or biases that could help or harm their cases.

Joshua Steinglass, a prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, quickly mentioned the elephant in the room (an appropriate metaphor, it would seem, for the presumptive Republican nominee for president).

“No one is suggesting that you can’t be fair juror because you’ve heard of Mr. Trump,” Steinglass said today. “We don’t expect you to have been living under a rock for the last eight years.”

But he added that the case had “nothing to do with your personal politics.”

“It’s not a referendum on the Trump presidency or a popularity contest or any indication of who you plan to vote for in November,” he said.

Trump, 77, is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in relation to his attempt to cover up a sex scandal involving a porn star, Stormy Daniels, before the 2016 election. And that — and that alone, Steinglass said — is what prosecutors intend to drill into jurors’ heads.

“This case is about whether this man broke the law,” Steinglass said, as Trump looked on. “Did he falsify business records in order to cover up an agreement to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election?”

Prosecutors also seem likely to acknowledge possible weaknesses of their case, including several witnesses with unsavory pasts. That includes Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to breaking campaign finance and other federal laws.

Steinglass admitted some of their witnesses had “baggage.”

“Several of the witnesses have in the past publicly denied many of the same facts that they are going to testify to here,” he said on Tuesday.

“It’s also not a referendum on whether you like the witnesses,” Steinglass continued, asking the prospective jurors if they could “separate believability from likability.”

Trump denies any sexual encounter with Daniels and also denies the charges against him, calling them a “witch hunt” devised by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, and other Democrats.

And in questioning jurors, and describing their arguments, Trump’s defense team seems intent on emphasizing fairness in what they see as a profoundly unfair prosecution.

“This is extraordinarily serious,” said Todd Blanche, the former president’s lead attorney, on Tuesday. “It’s extraordinarily important to President Trump that we know that we’re going to get a fair shake.”

Susan Necheles, another defense lawyer, echoed this today, saying that she understood people had “strong feelings,” but that they needed to set those aside.

“The problem with biases is they color the way we look at the world,” she said, pressing prospective jurors to honestly assess if any such biases were “going to affect how you look the evidence, even if you want to be fair.”

Both Blanche and Necheles repeatedly asked how prospective jurors felt about Trump, suggesting that one of the defense’s biggest worries is the former president’s reputation. In some of his final words to potential jurors on Tuesday, Blanche asked “whether you can accept the burden from now until the end that President Trump is innocent — innocent — until such time that you go back to deliberate.”

“Can you commit, from now until the end, that will be what you come into this courtroom with every day?” Blanche said.

No prospective juror objected.

The prosecution will go first in openings, and soon thereafter will begin to offer its evidence — including spreadsheets, emails and texts. There will be testimony from Cohen, and Daniels may take the stand, too. Blanche and other defense attorneys are expected to aggressively attack the credibility of both.

Indeed, Necheles made what seemed like a veiled reference to Cohen today, mentioning that there were some who wanted to get “revenge” on Trump.

The title of Cohen’s 2022 book? “Revenge.”

But before all that, both sides will deliver the opening remarks meant to set the stage for the weekslong trial that will follow.

The trial is unprecedented: the first time a former American president has been criminally tried. But Steinglass insisted — as he is likely to next week — that Trump is “just like any other defendant in any other criminal case,” arguing that the case is actually quite simple.

“This case is about the rule of law,” he said. “And whether or not Donald Trump broke it.”

Here’s the team we have reporting on the trial. During the proceedings, we’ll be sending you updates more frequently, including breaking news alerts and our regular weekly analysis on Thursdays.

We’re asking readers what they’d like to know about the Trump cases: the charges, the procedure, the important players or anything else. You can send us your question by filling out this form.

Why is Trump allowed to grandstand outside the courtroom? — Penny Wilson, Commack, N.Y.

Jesse: As a defendant, Trump is innocent until proven guilty and able to speak his mind whenever he sees fit. (Except in the courtroom, mind you, where he has been warned about outbursts.) And while he is subject to a gag order, restricting attacks on witnesses, prosecutors, jurors and court staff, as well as their relatives and relatives of the judge, Mr. Trump is also seeking to use the trial — and his suggestion that it’s a “witch hunt” — as a campaign talking point. And doing that talking that as soon as he leaves the courtroom seemingly conveys his eagerness to declare his innocence.

  • On Monday, the judge who oversaw Trump’s civil fraud trial in Manhattan will hold a hearing to determine whether the bond Trump posted as he appeals his $450 million penalty in the case was properly arranged.

  • The Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 25 about Trump’s claim to be immune from prosecution in the election interference case in Washington.

Trump is at the center of at least four separate criminal investigations, at both the state and federal levels, into matters related to his business and political careers. Here is where each case stands.

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