POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Mistrial motion fails, defense rests in Menendez trial

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

After seven and a half weeks of testimony, the Menendez trial is heading toward the finish line. The defense rested its case on Monday and the government said it will not be putting on a rebuttal case.

The day began with Judge William Walls denying a defense motion for a mistrial. The defense had argued for that late last week. In formal papers filed Sunday, defense lawyers argued the judge had been biased against them.

“Defendants submit that at key moments through this trial, the court’s rulings have been unfairly prejudicial, inconsistent and contrary to law,” the defense wrote.

Walls has been a judge for the better part of 50 years.

In court on Monday, Defense Attorney Abbe Lowell said, “Judge, you’ve been on the court so long you don’t appreciate the weight of what you have to say to a jury. You’re the guy. When you say ‘that’s irrelevant’ or take over the cross-examination of our witnesses, it’s unfair. We don’t remember your taking over the questioning of their witnesses. You’re cutting us off, not them.”

Lead prosecutor Peter Koski accused the defense of throwing up smokescreens.

“They’re blaming others for their own problems,” he said. “They say, ‘Let’s blame Cuba, let’s blame Obama, let’s blame Roger Stone, let’s blame the DOJ. Let’s blame our own staffers. Let’s blame government agencies.’ They’re just incapable of accepting responsibility and are doing what they can to set up an appeal.”

Menendez is accused of accepting vacations and campaign donations from his friend, Salomon Melgen, in return for going to bat for Melgen on Medicare and the Port Authority of the Dominican Republic.

Judge Walls said Monday he had to intervene at times during the trial.

“The defense wants to spend morning, noon and night on the issue of multi-dosing [the eye medicine] Lucentis, and on cargo screening in the Dominican port. It’s up to this court to determine when enough is enough,” he said.

He added the defense had not met the high bar needed for a mistrial, including a showing of “manifest injustice.” Later, with the jury out of earshot, Judge Walls said to the lawyers and the onlookers, “I know you don’t believe it, but I really don’t have a dog in this race. I could care less.”

On Tuesday, the judge and the lawyers will confer on how to charge the jury. The jurors were asked to come back Wednesday, when closing arguments are likely to begin. The case looks like it will go to the jury late this week or early next week.