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Defense tells Menendez jurors that prosecutors provided ‘zero evidence’ of action taken because of a bribe

Defense says prosecutors were ‘workshopping’ their story at trial

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez faces federal corruption charges in a New York trial that is seeing closing arguments this week.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez faces federal corruption charges in a New York trial that is seeing closing arguments this week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A lawyer for Sen. Bob Menendez encouraged jurors on Tuesday to acquit the New Jersey Democrat of all counts in the high-profile corruption case against him, arguing that there’s no direct evidence of the lawmaker discussing a bribe.

Defense attorney Adam Fee bashed the prosecution’s case during the second day of closing arguments at a federal courthouse in Manhattan, where Menendez is on trial on charges that he and his wife raked in high-dollar bribes from New Jersey businessmen.

[Menendez ‘put his power up for sale,’ say prosecutors in closing arguments in Manhattan trial]

Prosecutors presented a “story” built on inferences instead of hard evidence, Fee said, arguing that the narrative fell short of the high burden the government needed to reach: proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

“There is zero evidence of him saying or suggesting that he was doing something because of a bribe,” the lawyer argued.

Closing arguments in the case are expected to continue Wednesday.

Menendez, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is facing 16 criminal counts. Prosecutors allege that he and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, which included cash, gold bars and a luxury vehicle. He is on trial with two co-defendants in the case.

The prosecution alleges that, in exchange for bribes, Menendez promised to approve military aid to Egypt, to pressure the New Jersey attorney general to disrupt a criminal investigation and to recommend someone for a U.S. attorney post whom he thought he could influence to affect a federal case against a real estate developer, among other acts.

Fee said the prosecution was “workshopping” their story during the trial and misleading the jury.

Fee told jurors they were being asked to fill in gaps that were not based on evidence. He also angled to empower the jury, telling jurors that “this is your show.”

“A one-sided story sounds compelling. It does. So our goal throughout this trial was to try to point out to you, where are you getting half-truths? Where are you seeing the absence of evidence get filled in by a story that is not supported by proof?” Fee said.

An FBI agent testified during the trial that authorities seized gold bars and about $486,000 in cash during a 2022 search of the New Jersey residence that Menendez shared with his wife.

Fee acknowledged that the cash and gold were atypical, but he argued that prosecutors had given the impression there was cash and gold in every room of the house instead of in a few locations. The lawyer also raised questions about the prosecution’s case on the cash.

“Have they proven to you the most basic facts? To whom was that money given?” Fee said. “When was it given?”

Earlier Tuesday, federal prosecutor Paul Monteleoni said the case boils down to a “classic case of corruption on a massive scale.”

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