A bitter defeat in court for Sen. Bob Menendez when the judge refused to throw out the case against him. Menendez is on trial for bribery, conspiracy and failing to report gifts and political donations from his friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
The defense had argued the bribery charges should be dismissed, because prosecutors don’t have a proverbial “smoking gun” and no explicit proof that Menendez agreed to perform an official favor in exchange for a specific gift. They cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that narrowed the definition of bribery and overturned former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction.
But the defense argument didn’t persuade Judge William Walls. He said, “This idea of specificity doesn’t make sense,” adding, “McDonnell cannot be a death knell” to the so-called “stream of benefits” bribery case. Wall explained, given the prosecution’s evidence, “A rational jury could deduce the defendants entered into a quid pro quo agreement and that’s why we are going to the jury and that’s it.”
The jury was then informed that after hours of waiting, the defense would finally get underway, to which the jury responded, “Yay!” They’ve been seven weeks at this.
Defense attorneys called Menendez’s son to describe the close relationship his father has had for decades with the doctor. Bob Menendez, Jr. testified that he calls Dr. Melgen, “tio,” which means “uncle” in Spanish. When they stayed at Melgen’s vacation home in the Dominican Republic, he said his dad “can unwind, be himself, just relax and they’re the best when they’re together.”
The defense called Flor Melgen, the doctor’s wife, testified in Spanish that the family called Melgen and Menendez “Sal-Bob,” because they’re like family.
But prosecutors objected when the defense tried to get Mrs. Melgen to talk about the $1,000 cash wedding gift Menendez gave to Melgen’s daughter. Prosecution Attorney Monique Abrishami said, “Being friends and having a corrupt relationship are not mutually exclusive.”
Defense Attorney Abbe Lowell argued, “This is something the senator chose to do as a family member and it undercuts the notion of their relationship as one of corruption.”
The judge quipped, “$1,000 coming from a senator, as far as I’m concerned, is chump change. It’s up to the jury to determine the quality of the relationship.”
Sen. Menendez was typically upbeat as he left the courthouse saying, “I look forward to putting on all of our defense.”
They’ll be back Tuesday. The defense will continue presenting its case.