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Sen. Bob Menendez bribery case: What to know as trial starts

Written by on May 13, 2024

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(NEW YORK) — United States Sen. Bob Menendez is set to go on trial starting Monday in his federal bribery case.

The New Jersey Democrat is accused of accepting cash, gold bars, luxury wristwatches and other perks from New Jersey businessmen in exchange for official favors to benefit the businessmen and the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

He is the first sitting member of Congress to be charged with conspiracy by a public official to act as a foreign agent.

Menendez, 70, has denied all wrongdoing and called the prosecution “overzealous.”

Here’s what to know about the case:

Menendez indicted on bribery, extortion and more

A federal grand jury in New York returned a sweeping indictment against Menendez in September 2023 that accused him and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of having a corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen.

The indictment on bribery and extortion charges alleged that he and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides between 2018 and 2022 in exchange for using the senator’s power and influence to seek to protect and enrich the businessmen and benefit the government of Egypt.

In June 2022, federal agents searched Menendez’s New Jersey home and found “fruits” of the pair’s “corrupt bribery agreement” with the three businessmen, according to the indictment. Investigators found over $480,000 in cash, some stuffed in envelopes and hidden in clothing, as well as $70,000 in Nadine Menendez’s safe deposit box, according to the indictment.

Also found in the home were over $100,000 worth of gold bars, “provided by either Hana or Daibes,” according to the indictment.

In exchange for bribe payments, Menendez was meant to help lift a block on U.S. military aid to Egypt and “improperly advised and pressured” a U.S. agricultural official to protect an exclusive contract for Hana to be the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt, according to the indictment. The senator is also accused of seeking to disrupt criminal investigations into Uribe and Daibes.

In October 2023, federal prosecutors filed a new charge against Menendez accusing him of violating a prohibition on members of Congress from acting as an agent of a foreign principal. The superseding indictment alleged that the senator “made multiple requests for the U.S. Department of Justice to commence an investigation against another person for allegedly failing to register under FARA [the Foreign Agents Registration Act].”

A superseding indictment filed in January accused Menendez of making positive comments about Qatar in exchange for items of value, including luxury wristwatches valued between $10,000 and $24,000.

Another superseding indictment filed in March charged Menendez and his wife with new counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice related to their alleged attempts to cover up the bribe payments when the couple learned of the federal investigation in 2022.

The pair allegedly instructed their attorneys at the time to tell federal investigators they thought a mortgage payment on Nadine Menendez’s house and a payment for her Mercedes-Benz were loans when, in fact, prosecutors said they knew the payments were bribes.

With the latest superseding indictment, Menendez faces 16 total charges in the case while his wife faces 15. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Menendez: ‘I intend to prove my innocence’

Menendez has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the months following the initial indictment.

“I’m innocent — and I intend to prove my innocence, not just for me, but for the precedent this case will set for you and future members of the Senate,” Menendez said on the Senate floor in January.

He complained bitterly about federal prosecutors filing multiple superseding indictments, saying it “allows the government to keep the sensational story in the press. It poisons the jury pool and it seeks to convict me in the court of public opinion.”

He also said that “prosecutors sometimes shoot first before they even know all the facts.”

“The government seeks to use baseless conjecture, not facts, to create the connective tissue to substantiate the allegations,” Menedez said. “They show a picture of watches but not proof of receiving any such gifts.”

Menendez has said the wads of cash found in his jacket, his closet and in other parts of his home were the results of legitimate withdrawals he makes from his savings account, what he likened to “old fashioned” paranoia of the son of a Cuban immigrant worried about confiscation.

Following the most recent indictment in March, Menendez denied all wrongdoing and called the prosecution “overzealous” and the superseding indictment “a flagrant abuse of power.”

“The government has long known that I learned of and helped repay loans — not bribes — that had been provided to my wife,” the statement said.

Menendez and wife to be tried separately

Menendez and his wife are being tried separately due to Nadine Menendez’s undisclosed medical condition. Her trial is scheduled to start on July 8.

An attorney representing Menendez’s wife previously told ABC News that she “denies any wrongdoing and will vigorously defend against these allegations in court.”

Menendez may seek to blame his wife when he stands trial, according to a court document unsealed last month.

The potential line of defense was filed secretly earlier this year, before the judge ruled in April that Menendez and his wife would be tried separately. Defense attorneys said Menendez could take the stand in his own defense and implicate his wife by suggesting she kept information from him and he was unaware of her allegedly illegal activities, according to the filing.

Co-defendant pleads guilty

One of the three businessmen charged in the case has since pleaded guilty.

Uribe agreed to cooperate as part of his plea and to “truthfully and completely disclose all information with respect to the activities of himself and others,” according to court records filed in March.

Uribe pleaded guilty to seven counts including bribery, conspiracy and obstruction. He admitted to giving the luxury car to Nadine Menendez in exchange for the senator’s help, prosecutors said.

The recent obstruction accusations in the superseding indictment filed in March appear to result from this guilty plea.

The other two businessmen charged in the case have pleaded not guilty to their respective charges and are also set to go on trial in Manhattan federal court along with Menendez.

Menendez does not resign

Menendez has served as senator for New Jersey since 2006. He stepped down as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee following the initial indictment in September 2023 though has refused to resign despite calls to do so from a majority of his Democratic Senate colleagues.

In March, Menendez announced that will not seek another term as a Democrat but he left open the possibility of running in November as an independent.

“I will not file for the Democratic primary this June,” he said in a video statement. “I am hopeful that my exoneration will take place this summer and allow me to pursue my candidacy as an independent Democrat in the general election.”

Prior corruption case ended in mistrial

This is the second time the senator has been charged with corruption. A 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges.

The previous charges against Menendez centered on his relationship with Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, a close ally of the senator. Menendez allegedly accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his senate office to benefit the doctor’s financial and personal interests.

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