POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Judge charges jury in Menendez trial

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Judge William Walls began reading his charge to the jury early Wednesday afternoon.

“This is going to be a lengthy charge that reflects how seriously we’ve taken this matter for the last eight weeks or so,” he told jurors.

Indeed, at 67 pages, it was long. On trial are Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and his wealthy Florida doctor friend, Salomon Melgen. Federal prosecutors accuse the two of bribery. The defense says they are just close personal friends who did favors for each other.

The jury consists of seven women, five men and five alternates. Walls told them, “You are the fact finders in this case … My feelings are immaterial.”

And he repeated a line he’d used Tuesday with only the lawyers present: “I really have no dog in this fight,” he told jurors. “I could care less who wins or loses.”

The defendants are presumed innocent, the judge said, and the burden has been on the government to prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Each defendant is to be judged separately on each count, he said. Menendez is accused on twelve counts, Melgen on six.

For there to be a crime, the judge said, the defendant must have “intentionally, knowingly and willfully violated the law.”

Menendez’s lawyers have said the senator’s failure to disclose gifts from Melgen, count 18 on the in, was an oversight and not deliberate concealment.

The judge finished reading the charge late Wednesday afternoon.

Closing arguments will begin Thursday morning.

At the jury’s request, a planned Friday session has been called off, so jury deliberations will likely begin on Monday.