POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Booker, Graham defend Menendez; mistrial motion falls flat

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

The defense might have thought Thursday was going to be a good day for them. They had marquee character witnesses Sens. Cory Booker and Lindsey Graham set to testify on Menendez’s behalf. They had a third witness they hoped would testify to counter evidence put forth by the government.

But their best-laid plans ended in frustration and defeat. First, the boldfaced names. Lindsey Graham, a prominent Republican, was first. His testimony was brief and he repeated much of it to reporters outside court.

“I was asked, ‘What do you think about Bob, could you tell people what you think about him?’ I disagree with him politically, but I think he’s a very honest, honorable guy,” said Graham. “All my interactions with Bob have been on the up and up. He’s the type of guy if he gives you his word, he sticks with it no matter how much pressure is put on him to back off.”

Booker, who heaps praise on Menendez whenever they appear together, on Thursday called him “honest,” “trustworthy” and “hard-working.”

Both Booker and Graham admitted that they haven’t heard any of the evidence over the eight weeks of the trial. No matter to Menendez, who, outside the courtroom, was moved to tears of appreciation.

“When your colleagues come to testify for you, it says a lot. So I’m honored that both Sen. Graham and Sen. Booker testified,” he said.

As to the jury, they seemed not overly impressed with either senator’s testimony. By and large though, their work was over for the day. With the jury out of the courtroom, the defense tried to call attorney Marc Elias. Elias represented Menendez before the Senate Ethics Committee in 2013.

The defense wanted him to counter a number of claims made by the government about who paid for flights Menendez took to visit co-defendant Salomon Melgen.

For more than an hour, the defense tried any number of ways to convince the judge that the jury needed to hear from the witness. But the judge, repeatedly interrupting both defense attorneys, ruled that the jury could make up its own mind about the government’s case and didn’t need to hear from Elias. The defense then motioned for a mistrial.

With the jury gone for the day, the defense mounted a furious case, charging that the judge had precluded them from presenting their case by repeatedly overruling their objections, instructing the jury and allowing evidence that proved beneficial to the government’s case.

Clearly rankled, Judge William Walls asked Abbe Lowell, Menendez’s attorney, “Are you charging judicial misconduct?” To which Lowell replied, “If that’s how you want to characterize it.”

After hearing the defense’s case — and it should be noted that the exchanges were sometimes caustic on both sides — the judge ruled against them.

“I’m not really impressed by your argument about what I’ve done or haven’t done that warrants a mistrial,” said Walls.

With that, he gaveled an end to the proceeding and bid everyone a good weekend. The trial will continue into week nine on Monday.