(Bloomberg) -- Some prosecution witnesses in the Trump Organization criminal fraud case won’t meet with the district attorney’s office, prosecutors said in court during jury selection.
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Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass made the statement in front of prospective jurors on Friday, prompting the defense to object and the judge to excuse potential jurors from the courtroom for a hearing outside their presence.
“Many of these witnesses still work for the Trump Organization, and their loyalties lie on that side of the courtroom,” Steinglass told jurors, pointing to the defense table. “Some of them won’t even talk to us.” He said prosecutors may have to “push them toward the truth” and asked potential jurors if they’d have difficulty accepting testimony from such witnesses.
Defense lawyers complained that Steinglass had gone too far in telling the jury prospects that Trump employees could be reluctant witnesses. Trump Organization’s longtime Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg is expected to be the prosecutor’s star witness at the trial. Steinglass wasn’t referring to him in the statement about the reluctant witnesses.
William Brennan, a lawyer for the Trump Payroll Corp., accused prosecutors of assailing Weisselberg’s honesty and of “throwing him under the credibility bus” by generally referring to employees.
Weisselberg’s lawyer Nicholas Gravante said his client had been consistently meeting with both prosecutors and defense lawyers ahead of the trial. Gravante said Friday that Weisselberg last met with prosecutors as recently as 11 days ago.
“He is amenable to meeting with them by Zoom with my team any evening they’d like,” he said.
For the second time during jury selection this week, Steinglass asked the prospective jurors Friday whether they would have trouble weighing the credibility of witnesses who were still on the firm’s payroll.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan ruled Friday that prosecutors could ask potential jurors if they’d have difficulty accepting testimony from Trump employees.
“It calls into question their credibility,” he said. “It’s really close.”
The dozen jurors and six alternates chosen this week were directed to return to court Monday to hear opening arguments and the beginning of testimony.
The case is People v. Trump Organization, 01473-2021, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
(Updates with lawyer’s comment in sixth paragraph. An earlier version of this story was corrected for inaccurate references to Weisselberg.)
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