By Holmes Lybrand and Hannah Rabinowitz, CNN
Jury selection in the federal trial of former Fugees rapper Pras Michel began Monday, kicking off what is expected to be a weekslong trial that could feature testimony from high-ranking politicians, famous actors and business moguls.
The Grammy-winning artist is accused of making 2012 campaign donations to groups backing then-President Barack Obama without disclosing that the money came from Malaysian billionaire Jho Low. Prosecutors allege that Low funneled more than $21 million to Michel, who in turn used straw donors to make the campaign donations to pro-Obama groups.
Prosecutors further allege that the scheme continued into the Trump administration and that Michel used some of the money Low sent to fund a campaign aimed at stopping a Justice Department investigation into Low’s alleged role in embezzling billions of dollars from a Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB.
On Monday, a pool of potential jurors, who filled the ceremonial courtroom in Washington, DC’s federal courthouse, were read a star-studded list of names of potential witnesses from both the government and defense counsel to weed out any potential bias in the jury pool.
Attorneys read a list of more than 40 individuals who could be called to testify in the case, including actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, whose film “The Wolf of Wall Street” was funded in part by Low and who reportedly testified to the grand jury that handed down Michel’s indictment.
The list also includes Trump allies such as Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon and Republican megadonor Steve Wynn as well as ex-government officials like former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
Defense lawyers also rattled off a list of individuals and companies that could be referred to in the trial, including celebrities Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Britney Spears, Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg, activist Jesse Jackson, as well as a former prime minister of Malaysia, his wife and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The possible witnesses listed above are not accused of wrongdoing.
Several people tied to the alleged plot have pleaded guilty to federal charges, including former Justice Department employee George Higginbotham, Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and Broidy’s business associate Nickie Lum Davis. Former President Donald Trump pardoned Broidy just before leaving office in January 2021.
If convicted, Michel could face decades in prison. Low, who was also indicted, remains at large and is believed to be in China.
Several jurors told the court they could not be impartial given the witness list, referring specifically to individuals such as Giuliani, Broidy, Sessions, and former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus.
“Some of them are convicted criminals,” one potential juror said, citing Bannon and Broidy.
District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who is presiding over the case, pressed defense lawyers on whether each name they listed would really be part of the trial.
“You did (a) cast of thousands,” Kollar-Kotelly said. “Are these names actually going to come up?”
Defense attorneys said all the names on their lists were culled from discovery brought by the government.
“Reince Priebus’ name will certainly come up,” one prosecutor told the judge. “Reince Priebus for sure.”
Kollar-Kotelly admonished those sitting in the gallery Monday after laughter broke out in the courtroom when one juror, who said he couldn’t be impartial, called former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a “political hack” and said Ivanka and Eric Trump had “no credibility.”
“Please don’t laugh,” she said. “This is a courtroom.”
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