Menendez's lawyer says prosecutors failed to prove single charge in bribery trial

A lawyer for Sen. Bob Menendez urged jurors on Tuesday to acquit him of every charge at the New Jersey Democrat’s corruption trial, saying federal prosecutors had failed to prove a single count beyond a reasonable doubt.

The attorney, Adam Fee, told the Manhattan federal court jury that there were too many gaps in evidence that prosecutors wanted jurors to fill in on their own to conclude crimes were committed or that Menendez accepted any bribes.

“The absence of evidence should be held against the prosecution,” he said. “There’s zero evidence of him saying or suggesting that he was doing something for a bribe.”

And he defended over $100,000 in gold bars and more than $480,000 in cash found in an Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home during a June 2022 FBI search, although he acknowledged of the valuables: “It’s provocative. It’s atypical.”

“Prosecutors have not come close to meeting their burden to show you that any of the gold or cash was given to Senator Menendez as a bribe,” Fee said.

Criminal Trial For US Senator Bob Menendez
Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, arrives at federal court in New York City on July 8, 2024.

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“This is a case with a lot of inferences,” he said, suggesting there were large gaps in the evidence that was unsupported by emails, texts or other evidence.

The longtime lawmaker faces 16 felony counts, including obstruction of justice, acting as a foreign agent, bribery, extortion and honest services wire fraud. 

After the jury was sent home Tuesday, Fee told Judge Sidney Stein that he was about halfway through a five-hour closing that will resume Wednesday morning. His closing will be followed by arguments from two other defense lawyers before prosecutors present a rebuttal argument. The jury is likely to get the case on Thursday.

Earlier Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni said in a closing argument that began Monday that the senator had engaged in “wildly abnormal” behavior in response to bribes, including trying to interfere in criminal cases handled by the top state and federal prosecutors in New Jersey.

Menendez has pleaded not guilty to charges that he accepted bribes including gold and envelopes of cash from 2018 to 2022 from three New Jersey businessmen who wanted his help in their business ventures.

His trial entered its ninth week on Monday.

Menendez is on trial with two of the businessmen — Wael Hana and Fred Daibes. Hana, who prosecutors say enlisted Menendez to help him protect a monopoly on the certification of meat exported from the U.S. to Egypt, and Daibes, an influential real estate developer, have also both pleaded not guilty. A third businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty and testified that he bought a Mercedes-Benz convertible for the senator’s wife in exchange for Menendez quashing criminal investigations into his business associates. 

Senator Menendez Trial Continues In New York City
Wael Hana arrives for trial at Manhattan Federal Court on June 11, 2024, in New York City.

Michael M Santiago/Getty Images / Getty Images

Monteleoni rejected attempts by the defense to make it seem that Menendez was unaware of efforts to get cash or favors from the businessmen by his then-girlfriend, Nadine Arslanian, who became his wife in October 2020. Fee has argued that she went to great lengths to hide her financial troubles, including an inability to pay for her home, from Menendez.

To demonstrate his point that Menendez was in charge of bribery schemes, the prosecutor pointed to testimony about a small bell the senator allegedly used to summon his wife one day when he was outside their home with Uribe and wanted her to bring him paper.

The bell “showed you he was the one in charge,” Monteleoni said, “not a puppet having his strings pulled by someone he summons with a bell.”

Nadine Menendez also is charged in the case, but her trial has been postponed while she recovers from breast cancer surgery.

Menendez has resisted calls, even by some prominent Democrats, that he resign, though he did relinquish his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the charges were unveiled last fall.

Several weeks ago, Menendez filed to run for reelection this year as an independent.

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