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Sen. Bob Menendez goes on trial for alleged corruption

REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID
                                U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) arrives at Federal Court, for the start of his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City.
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REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) arrives at Federal Court, for the start of his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City.

NEW YORK >> Jury selection began in the corruption trial of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez today, with a judge excusing dozens of prospective jurors in a case that could affect the Democrat’s political future and the makeup of the U.S. Senate.

Menendez, who is New Jersey’s senior senator, faces 16 criminal charges including bribery, fraud, obstruction and acting as a foreign agent.

He is being tried alongside New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes in Manhattan federal court. The senator’s wife, Nadine Menendez, has also been charged but will be tried separately. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein said the trial could last through June. He and lawyers for both sides spent close to five hours on Monday behind closed doors, speaking privately with prospective jurors who did not want to serve.

Menendez, 70, sat quietly in the courtroom during this process, only occasionally reading or speaking with one of his lawyers. Jury selection will resume on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have accused the Menendezes of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, in exchange for the senator offering political favors and helping the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

The senator allegedly promised to help Egypt obtain arms sales and other military aid, and helped Hana, an Egyptian American, obtain a lucrative monopoly on the certification of halal meat exports to Egypt.

Prosecutors also said Menendez tried to help defendant Daibes, a prominent New Jersey developer, obtain millions of dollars from a Qatari investment fund, and disrupt a federal criminal case against Daibes in New Jersey.

FBI agents who searched the Menendezes’ home in June 2022 found much of the cash hidden inside clothing, closets and a safe, prosecutors said.

A fifth defendant, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges in March and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The alleged scheme ran from 2018 to 2023, prosecutors said.

DEFENSE MOTION

Menendez, a senator since 2006, is up for reelection in November and if acquitted may seek a fourth full term as an independent.

He has resisted calls, including from many Democratic senators, to resign, though he gave up leadership of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee following his September indictment.

Democrats and independents who caucus with them hold a 51-49 Senate majority. Several seats in that majority may be closely contested in November, and a Democratic seat in West Virginia is expected to turn Republican.

Nadine Menendez’s trial is scheduled for July 8. Her case was separated after her lawyers said she developed a serious medical condition that required a long recovery.

Lawyers for Robert Menendez have suggested in court papers that if he testified he may try to blame his wife.

His lawyers said Menendez could explain what they discussed during dinners with Egyptian officials and offer his wife’s explanation for why Hana and Uribe “provided her certain monetary items.”

The defense team also wants a psychiatrist to testify that the senator routinely stored cash in his home because of a “fear of scarcity.”

Defense lawyers said this was a “coping mechanism” after the Cuban government seized his family’s assets before he was born, and his father died by suicide after Menendez stopped paying his gambling debts.

Menendez also went on trial in 2017, on charges he helped wealthy Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in exchange for lavish gifts and political contributions.

That case ended in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked, and prosecutors did not retry the senator. He was reelected the following year.

Several other current and former members of Congress also face federal criminal charges, including Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, and former representative George Santos, a New York Republican.

While New Jersey voters lean Democratic, fewer than one in six polled in March by Monmouth University and Emerson College Polling/PIX11/The Hill approved of Menendez’s job performance. Even fewer said they would vote for him as an independent.

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