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Fairness, a Trump Obsession, Is Central to Jury Selection in His Trial

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Over much of his life, Donald J. Trump has measured the world in terms of whether it is treating him or people he likes “unfairly.”

Mr. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, a wealthy businessman and the son of a wealthy and well-connected real-estate developer, has used the word in a wide variety of contexts.

News outlets, he often insists, treat him “unfairly.” Political rivals and critics treat him “unfairly.” Prosecutors who have charged him with crimes treat him “unfairly.”

“No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams,” Mr. Trump said of himself in 2017.

Such grievance was at the heart of his appeal to voters who propelled him in primary races, in a general election in 2016 and in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election that he lost.

Now, the question of fairness — how people view Mr. Trump’s treatment by prosecutors, and whether they can judge him impartially — is at the heart of a laborious jury selection for the first criminal trial of a former president. Prosecutors and defense lawyers are choosing 12 people from a pool of hundreds to decide whether Mr. Trump falsified business records to cover up a hush-money payment during the 2016 presidential race.

More than 50 prospective jurors said at the outset that they didn’t think they could be impartial — or, put another way, fair — in the trial, in which Mr. Trump, like all criminal defendants, is innocent until proven guilty. Over the next hours, still more said that they were uncertain about their internal fairness meters and were dismissed.

Reminders about fairness are routine during jury selection in criminal cases. Yet with Mr. Trump, even the routine can become fraught, subject to the lens of politics.

A prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, reminded possible jurors that the case was “not a referendum on whether you like” Mr. Trump. It was, he said, about the law, although he noted that everyone “and their mother” had an opinion on this case.

Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, when it was his turn, told prospective jurors he wanted to test their statements that they could be fair to his client. “You all have different views of him based on all kinds of factors,” Mr. Blanche said.

One man resisted Mr. Blanche’s attempts to learn his political beliefs. The man repeatedly said his opinion of Mr. Trump wouldn’t affect his ability to be a juror.

“I can compartmentalize,” the man insisted.

To another potential juror, Blanche said that he wanted to make sure that Mr. Trump started with her at “zero.”

Earlier, a different woman said, “nobody’s above the law,” and then added, “I believe he’s being treated fairly.” She acknowledged that probably counted as a strong opinion.

“I’m not 100 percent sure I can be fair,” she concluded. She was excused.

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