As a registered voter in Palm Beach County, Florida, Bette Anne Starkey knows there is a possibility she could be chosen to serve on a jury in the federal criminal case against former President Donald J. Trump. But even though she’s a two-time Trump voter, she can’t really tell how she’d lean as a juror to consider the case.
Echoing Trump himself, Ms. Starkey, an 81-year-old accountant, used the phrase « witch hunt » in an interview to describe the federal indictment against the former president, who accuses him of knowingly removing confidential documents from the White House. But she also struggles to understand why Mr. Trump hasn’t simply returned the documents when asked, part of his simmering irritation with the 45th president.
« I’m sick of hearing about all of his shenanigans, » she said.
His comments reflect the complicated feelings Mr. Trump can evoke these days even among Republicans who voted for him. But Ms. Starkey is also a reflection of the equally complicated and volatile politics of South Florida, Mr. Trump’s home turf and the jury pool she provides.
It is in diverse and densely populated South Florida that a jury of Mr. Trump’s colleagues will be called upon to judge his innocence or guilt if the case ever goes to trial, although the exact trial location and juror pool are not been determined.
The case has been filed with the West Palm Beach Judiciary Division of the Southern District of Florida, which means the jury could be selected from registered voters in Palm Beach County, home to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he’s been living since he’s been gone. the White House. Mr. Trump has lost Palm Beach County to President Biden by nearly 13 percentage points in 2020.
But a jury made up of voters from Miami-Dade County, south of Palm Beach, is also a possibility, particularly if it is determined that the federal courthouse in Miami, where Trump is expected to make his first appearance on Tuesday , is better equipped to accommodate what will likely be one of the highest-profile criminal trials in American history.
Mr. Trump only lost Miami-Dade by about seven points in the last election, drawing strong support particularly from Hispanic voters; more than two-thirds of county residents identify as Hispanic, according to census data.
Both counties, however, have become more Republican in recent years, and Republican candidates have had significant success in statewide races. Mr. Trump won Florida in both 2016 and 2020, and the state has twice elected Governor Ron DeSantis, currently Mr. Trump’s main rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
All of this should offer some comfort to members of Trump’s defense team, who know it only takes one vote to get a hung jury. And many South Florida residents, like Americans elsewhere in the country, believe that Trump is being subjected to unfair treatment by powerful forces on the political left.
George Cadman, 54, is a real estate agent and father of two who said he hasn’t followed the news closely in recent months. He said he hasn’t heard of the federal charges against Mr. Trump, making him, in one sense, a good candidate for jury service.
But Mr. Cadman, who lives in south Miami-Dade County, also said he supports Trump « 100 percent » and believes previous investigations into Mr. Trump were politically motivated.
Adding that she believes Russia’s 2016 election interference and the Trump-Ukraine scandal were hoaxes, she said: « I would be very wary of making a decision on what I think, » she said, referring to the new case against Mr Trump.
(In a later phone call, Mr. Cadman said as much as he loved Mr. Trump, he planned to vote for President Biden in 2024, because the rising property values had been good for his job as a real estate agent. )
Many of South Florida’s Cuban-Americans learned the hard way during and after the Cuban Revolution about the impact of politics on apolitical lives as well. And for some of the conservatives among them, like Modesto Estrada, a retiree A businessman who arrived in Miami 18 years ago, Mr. Trump deserves to be held up as a powerful brake on the democratic and liberal policies that Mr. Estrada said were « ruining the country » by discouraging people from working.
Mr Estrada, 71, noted that Mr Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence had also been found in possession of sensitive government documents. Like many people interviewed, he said he would have a hard time being an impartial juror in the case.
« From my personal perspective, up to now, they don’t have anything on him, » she said of Mr. Trump. “And nothing will happen to him. He won’t go to jail. The case will fall apart and that’s what I hope ”.
Just as Mr Estrada said his experience with a leftist dictatorship colored his hope that Mr Trump would be found not guilty, Viviana Dominguez, 63, referred to her experience in her native Argentina, which was ruled from a right-wing military dictatorship government from 1976 to 1983, when he expressed his dislike for Trump.
Ms. Dominguez, an art conservator who has lived in Miami for 13 years, called Mr. Trump an « embarrassment, » adding, « I think he’s going to jail, but I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking. »
He described the documents case and Trump’s still sizable support base in terms of a disturbing relaxation of civic standards. « We saw all this in my country, when the lies kept getting bigger and bigger, » he said. “The margin of tolerance was getting wider and wider, so much so that you never saw the limit. They would talk about morality and family, but they would be the most corrupt, most obscene people in the world. It’s like a state of madness.
Roderick Clelland, a 78-year Vietnam veteran from West Palm Beach, the most populous city in Palm Beach County, said he was concerned about the international implications of what he saw as Trump’s lax stance on secrets sensitive nationals.
« The whole world is watching us. » said Mr. Clelland. “And some of those papers on other countries – will they trust us? People have been locked up for less than that. So you can’t just break the law and get away with it. So I hope there is a penalty.
Mr. Clelland was careful to note that he didn’t hate Mr. Trump. « But I don’t like his behavior and his attitude about him, » he said.
Despite voting for Mr. Trump twice, Ms. Starkey, the accountant, said she was never a big fan of him. But in both 2016 and 2020, she failed to back the more liberal candidate. These days she’s thinking about voting for Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador and Republican governor of South Carolina.
However, Ms. Starkey said the indictment of Mr. Trump seemed like a partisan move at a time when American politics lacks much of the inter-party courtesy she fondly remembers from the past. It was one of the reasons, she said, why she would have difficulty if she were chosen for a possible jury in the case: « Do you trust to get all the facts for and against? » she wondered.
She said she was exasperated by the drama surrounding the prosecution and knew there were many more like her.
« I just want him to go away, » she said.
@Verónica Soledad Zaragovia contributed reporting from Palm Beach County, Florida.