US Politics

What to know about New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s trial

Author: Editors Desk, Holmes Lybrand Source: CNN:::
May 13, 2024 at 08:37
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat whose trial begins Monday. Andrew Harnik/Getty Images
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat whose trial begins Monday. Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

CNN — A sitting US senator is set to face a weekslong trial over charges of taking bribes including gold bars, cash and a luxury car to, among other things, help push US aid and weapons to a foreign government and stop a federal case against one of his co-defendants.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who faces 16 charges including conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to obstruct justice, has rejected calls to resign and, while he won’t run in the state’s primary for his seat, has left open the possibility for an independent run following his trial.

The senator told CNN’s Manu Raju on Capitol Hill last week, “I am looking forward to proving my innocence,” when asked repeatedly whether he would resign in the face of a potential conviction.Prosecutors say Menendez and his wife, Nadine, helped several New Jersey businessmen – all of whom were charged in the conspiracy – obtain lucrative contracts with Egyptian and Qatari officials and attempted to pressure authorities to stop investigations into the businessmen and their associates.

Jury selection in the case begins Monday.

Menendez will be tried with two of his co-defendants, Wael Hana, an Egyptian American businessman, and Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer. His wife faces trial in July.

Here’s what to know:

Foreign entanglements

According to the indictment, Hana and Nadine Menendez – who were friends for years before she started dating the senator in 2018 – worked together to connect the senator with several Egyptian officials to help secure US military aid as well as an exclusive contract with Hana’s company.

The contract, prosecutors say, made Hana’s company the only business able to certify US food exports to Egypt as compliant with halal standards.

Menendez, who at the time held senior positions on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a post with power over foreign military sales, met several times with Hana’s contacts in the Egyptian military and helped steer US military sales and aid to the country, according to prosecutors.

The indictment also alleges Menendez ghostwrote a letter on behalf of the Egyptian government attempting to persuade other senators to lift a hold on $300 million in aid.In addition to his alleged agreement to use his position to facilitate military sales and financing to Egypt, Menendez also passed along sensitive information to his wife about who was serving at the US Embassy in Cairo, prosecutors say. His wife, in turn, sent the information to Hana, who forwarded it to an Egyptian government official.

The senator also allegedly pressured an official at the Department of Agriculture to protect the halal certification monopoly Hana had secured with Egypt for his company, through which his wife was allegedly being paid for Menendez’s efforts.

Menendez’s entanglements with foreign governments extended to Qatari officials, prosecutors say.

In exchange for gold bars, whose price Menendez searched online several times, and other items, Menendez helped his co-defendant Daibes secure a multimillion-dollar investment from Qatari officials in a real estate project, according to prosecutors.

New Jersey investigations

Using his power as senator, prosecutors say Menendez attempted to influence several cases in New Jersey involving his co-defendants, including by talking with a top prosecutor on one case and by working to recommend a candidate for the job of New Jersey’s US attorney, who Menendez believed would help quash a case against Daibes.

For Menendez’s efforts in pressuring an official in one case, New Jersey businessman Jose Uribe and Hana bought Nadine a luxury car, prosecutors say.

In May, Uribe pleaded guilty to seven counts related to the bribery scheme involving Menendez and his co-defendants and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the case, including by testifying at the trial.

Ultimately, according to the indictment, Menendez’s influence campaigns were unsuccessful. The New Jersey case against Daibes is ongoing.

Alleged cover-up

According to prosecutors, after search warrants were executed on the Menendezes’ home – where gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash were found – and elsewhere, the senator and his wife attempted to cover up the bribes by paying back the businessmen for the mortgage and luxury car, claiming they were merely loans.

The indictment states that lawyers for the two told prosecutors – relying on statements from the married couple – that the bribe payments were actually loans. Menendez allegedly had his attorney at the time say he was originally unaware of the mortgage and car payments, which prosecutors say is false.

The couple has been charged with obstructing justice.

Menendez’s defense

Attorneys for Menendez have hinted at several possible defenses they may bring during trial, including that the 13 gold bars and $480,000 in cash investigators found in his home could be explained by intergenerational family trauma as well as a psychological disorder stemming in part from his father’s suicide.

Shortly after he was indicted on bribery charges last year, Menendez told reporters he had withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash over the course of 30 years, citing “the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.”

The family trauma and death of his father, defense attorneys say, led to a fear of scarcity through which Menendez developed “seemingly unusual” coping mechanisms.

Menendez may also attempt to lay the blame for the alleged conspiracy on his wife, Nadine, whose trial was delayed due to a medical issue.

“Senator Menendez intends to present a defense arguing (in part) that he lacked the requisite knowledge of much of the conduct and statements of his wife, Nadine, and thus lacks scienter and did not agree to join any of the charged conspiracies,” attorneys for Menendez wrote in a court filing.

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