POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Menendez trial: Judge rules defense’s constituent evidence admissible

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

It’s a victory on its face for Sen. Bob Menendez. How big a victory is to be determined.

Federal prosecutors sought to limit how much to tell the jury about what the senator does for constituents — so-called “innocent acts.” But, some of those same kinds of acts have Menendez on trial for official corruption, including that he used his position to do favors and run interference for his friend, Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, who is also on trial.

Federal Judge William Walls said he would let the jury hear about the innocent acts and let the jury determine what the facts add up to for themselves. His reasoning? An accountant could be honest his entire career and one day decide to embezzle. The point? You may not know his intent and intent is a huge part of what prosecutors and defense attorneys are pursuing.

Prosecutors argue the doctor intended to bribe the senator with expensive, private jet flights to and from exclusive destinations and the senator knowingly accepted.

The defense argues the two are friends and nothing was a bribe.

Tuesday, a Hyatt Hotel vice president testified about one of those trips to the Park Hyatt Paris — one of the best hotels in the world. The doctor booked and paid for a king suite for the senator.

On questioning by the defense, the Hyatt vice president said the hotel chose the room based on availability at that time in April 2010.

The prosecution ran through a list of the senator’s flights on the doctor’s private jets to and from Teterboro, Palm Beach, Washington. D.C.
and the Dominican Republic. They then showed the jury that among the flights over several years were email exchanges about visas for friends of the doctor.

Late Tuesday, the judge sent the jury out of the courtroom so the attorneys could debate what comes next. Prosecutors want to present memos and an interview showing the senator was trying to conceal what he had done and how many times he had done it. The judge ruled that some of the written material may be presented, but not sections dealing with unproven, right-wing allegations that the senator had engaged in prostitution — that’s something not alleged in the indictment.

But, it may have motivated the senator to give CNN an on-camera interview in February 2013. He discussed why he paid the doctor $58,000-plus for the flights way after the fact. In that interview, Menendez also claimed the prostitution allegations came from unnamed adversaries hiding in the dark.

The judge said he would allow that interview to play in court, but not the part about the smears.