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Trump’s Jury Pool for Jan. 6 Trial: A City That Remembers the Attack

When jury selection begins in the trial of former President Donald J. Trump concerning his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, defense lawyers will probably face an uphill battle.

It’s not just that the pool of potential jurors in the District of Columbia is heavily Democratic (though it is) or that the city is home to a great many lawyers (one in forty residents, the most per capita of any state or district, according to one estimate.)

To many of the district’s residents, the mob attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 was more than a national political crisis: It was also a horrific act of local violence that felt deeply personal.

“I don’t think you will find a D.C. resident who is not aware of what happened on Jan. 6 and was not impacted by some way, either that day or in the days following,” said Christina Henderson, a district council member and a former staffer for Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader.

For Ms. Henderson, who was not in the Capitol on Jan. 6, it was the experience of watching a cherished workplace turn into a scene of terror, and fearing the worst for friends and former colleagues.

Tall fences and National Guard troops on the streets were part of daily life for D.C. residents after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by supporters of the former president.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The federal courts screen potential jurors for bias and conflicts of interest, and both the prosecution and the defense have a say in who is selected — a system that has shown it can seat fair and impartial juries for even the most notorious cases. And political leanings are not necessarily indicative of how jurors will decide a criminal case. But that does not mean selecting this jury will be easy.

Even for people with no direct connection to the Capitol, there are lingering memories of what happened to their city in the days and weeks after the attack: the Humvees that suddenly appeared on quiet neighborhood streets; the 8-foot-tall black metal fence topped with razor wire that was erected around the Capitol, blocking streets; the more than 20,000 heavily armed National Guard troops who descended on the city, which at 68 square miles has a smaller footprint than Sioux Falls, S.D.

Some residents described the atmosphere around the Capitol in interviews as feeling like a “military occupation” or “minimum-security prison.”

“There are so many layers of emotion here, when you think about it,” Ms. Henderson said.

All of this could add up to an enormous challenge for Mr. Trump and his lawyers. The former president and his allies are already pushing the idea that Washington is an inherently unfair venue for the trial.

Mr. Trump said on his Truth Social website on Wednesday that he hoped the case would be moved to an “impartial” venue, like the “politically unbiased” state of West Virginia, which he won by nearly 40 points in 2020. In a message posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is running against Mr. Trump in the Republican presidential primary, voiced support for the idea of a venue change, calling D.C. a “swamp.”

A transfer of venue is unlikely. The Constitution holds that criminal defendants must generally be tried in the state or district where the alleged crime occurred. And there is precedent for allowing local juries to decide high-profile cases, like that of the Boston Marathon bomber, which was decided by a Boston jury. Lawyers for several Jan. 6 rioters have petitioned to have their trials transferred out of D.C., without success.

Selecting a jury will mean sifting through a jury pool in a city where many residents have some type of connection to politics. When Steve Bannon was tried last year for contempt of Congress, the jury pool included a onetime intern for a former Democratic Senator, Claire McCaskill; the daughter of a Democratic congressional aide; and a reporter who had corresponded with Mr. Bannon in the past for articles. All were stricken off by the defense.

The jury selection process to find the 12 district residents who will ultimately decide whether Mr. Trump is guilty could be lengthy. Finding people who don’t have a strong opinion of Mr. Trump or haven’t followed the Jan. 6 case could prove difficult.

During the trial earlier this year of Joseph Biggs, a leader of the far-right Proud Boys, what was expected to be a three-day jury selection process dragged on for three weeks, said J. Daniel Hull, Mr. Biggs’s lawyer. Mr. Hull attributed the extended proceedings to what he said was a “lack of political and cultural diversity” in the city, and to negative preconceptions about the Proud Boys. Mr. Biggs and three other members of the group were convicted of sedition in connection with their actions on Jan. 6.

“This is the worst possible place for any Jan. 6 defendant, but especially Donald Trump, to have a trial,” Mr. Hull said.

Washington residents celebrated near the White House when President Biden won the election on Nov, 7, 2020. The city is heavily Democratic.Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

The Trump trial will take place in a city that has been transformed over the last decade. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of District residents grew at nearly double the national rate. Its racial makeup has also changed: By 2019, the city once known as “chocolate city” had become about equally white and Black.

At the same time, the city, long a liberal stronghold, has become even bluer since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. Residents voted for President Biden in 2020 by an 87-point margin.

For some Washingtonians, Tuesday’s indictment has also surfaced a sense of bitter irony that what is arguably the most important case in the country’s democratic history will be decided by residents of a city that lacks representation in Congress. The district, despite having more residents than Vermont or Wyoming, has been repeatedly denied statehood.

Its limited political status was starkly highlighted on Jan. 6, when Muriel E. Bowser, the city’s mayor, was stymied in her efforts to deploy the District of Columbia National Guard to protect the Capitol building. (Governors can summon the National Guard in their states at will, but the District of Columbia Guard can be deployed only after approval by the Pentagon and, by extension, the president.)

Sharon Eliza Nichols, the communications director for Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s nonvoting delegate, was among the people in the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

She said she could still recall the feeling of terror when she had to barricade her office in the Capitol, and the fear she felt not knowing whether the shoes squeaking outside in the hallway were that of the police or the mob.

Still, she said that if called upon, she and other D.C. residents could put aside their personal feelings to support a fair trial. Regardless of its politics, the city is also filled with civil servants who have dedicated their lives to government and to upholding its values.

“I don’t think it’s any different than any other criminal trial,” she said.

Emily Cochrane and Alan Feuer contributed reporting.

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