Skip to content

Menendez defense focuses on ‘doing his job’ as senator

Prosecution tells a jury in corruption trial that New Jersey Democrat did 'politics for profit'

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., arrives at federal court in New York City for his corruption trial.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., arrives at federal court in New York City for his corruption trial. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

An attorney for Sen. Bob Menendez used opening statements Wednesday to portray the senator as using the power of his position to represent the interests of his constituents and the United States — not taking corrupt actions.

Menendez, D-N.J., is on trial in New York for 16 criminal counts that include bribery, extortion and acting as a foreign agent. Prosecutors already had told the jury that he and his wife, Nadine, used his influence and were motivated by greed.

“This was not politics as usual. This was politics for profit,” prosecutor Lara Pomerantz said during opening statements. “Robert Menendez was a United States senator on the take, motivated by greed, focused on how much money he could put in his own pocket and in his wife’s pocket.”

Menendez attorney Avi Weitzman, among other defenses, said the evidence will “show Bob was doing his job and he was doing it right.”

“You will learn that every action the government claims the senator took in this case as a corrupt action, whether it was a phone call or a meeting or an introduction, each time he was acting lawfully, consistent with his duties as a United States senator,” Weitzman said.

The opening statements made it clear that the jury will have to weigh how much of Menendez’s actions were a normal part of his role as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a representative of people in New Jersey.

Along those lines, the judge during jury selection mentioned some members of Congress who might be named in testimony or be potential witnesses during the trial, which is expected to take weeks. Those lawmakers include Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Pomerantz walked jurors through the government’s case, accusing Menendez of promising to do things that would benefit the government of Egypt and co-defendant Wael Hana, who the government says is originally from Egypt and was friends with Menendez’s wife.

“Menendez promised that he would put some of his decisions on U.S. foreign policy up for sale in exchange for bars of gold and checks to his wife,” Pomerantz said. “He promised to approve billions of dollars in military aid to Egypt. He also helped give Egyptian officials an inside track in Washington. He gave them sensitive, nonpublic U.S. government information.”

In one instance, Pomerantz said the senator had promised to green light or give the go ahead on U.S. military aid, including weapons and taxpayer money to Egypt. The prosecutor accused the senator of using Nadine “to secretly promise Egypt that he would approve their military aid.”

In another example, Pomerantz told the jury that the senator had secretly written a letter from Egypt that was meant to respond to his colleagues’ concerns about Egypt’s human rights record.

“That’s right — a United States senator secretly helped a foreign country draft a letter to persuade other U.S. senators who were concerned about human rights abuses,” she said.

Weitzman countered that Menendez, a “lifelong public servant,” had been “working consistent with the interests and requests of the United States government, and that’s it.”

Weitzman argued that Menendez had taken a consistent position on Egypt, in which the lawmaker described the country as an important partner to the U.S. in combating terrorism but said Egypt needs to do better when it comes to human rights.

“And consistently, even during the time period that the government alleges that he’s a foreign agent for Egypt, he is criticizing Egypt,” Weitzman said. “He is taking them to task, and he’s telling them they need to do better on human rights.”

Weitzman also told jurors that every arms sale to Egypt had been supported by the U.S. president and the State Department.

“The evidence will make that clear. The prosecutor didn’t mention it, but that’s the truth,” Weitzman said. “Sen. Menendez didn’t hold some magic wand. The administration proposes it, and multiple members of Congress need to review it. That’s the process. Sen. Menendez was not doing Egypt’s bidding.”

Menendez is on trial with two other co-defendants: Hana and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer who was a longtime fundraiser for the senator, according to the indictment.

Another Menendez co-defendant, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in the case, including conspiracy to bribe Menendez and the senator’s wife with a Mercedes-Benz convertible.

Recent Stories

Eight questions for elections in five states on Tuesday

Paul Pelosi attacker sentenced to 30 years in prison

House Over-slight Committee — Congressional Hits and Misses

Biden kicks off outreach to Black voters as protest threat looms at Morehouse

Editor’s Note: Stock market no panacea for Biden, Democrats

Photos of the week ending May 17, 2024