POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Both sides score points at Menendez trial

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Wednesday’s abbreviated session of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’ federal corruption trial focused not so much on what he’s accused of doing as what he’s accused of failing to do. Cameras are not allowed in federal court but Chief political Correspondent Michael Aron was there.

The prosecution honed in Wednesday on an area where observers say Sen. Bob Menendez could be most vulnerable: financial disclosure.

Menendez accepted flights and vacations from his co-defendant, Dr. Salomon Melgen, without declaring them on his Senate Financial Disclosure Forms from 2006 to 2010.

Only after a Washington Post reporter asked about the trips two and a half years later did Menendez reimburse Melgen for three flights on a private jet worth $58,500.

The government played a portion of a CNN report on that subject back in 2013.

“Why did it took so long to pay back almost $60,000 in flights that you took?” the CNN reporter asked.

“I was in a big travel schedule in 2010, I was the chair of the DSCC [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee], plus my own campaign and getting ready for a new campaign cycle,” Menendez replied. “In the process of all that, it unfortunately fell through the cracks, that our processes didn’t catch in making sure that we paid. When it came to my attention that payment had not taken place, I personally paid for that in order to meet my obligation.”

The government pointed out that on the disclosure forms it says, “Any individual who knowingly and willfully falsifies, or who knowingly and willfully fails to file, this report may be subject to civil and criminal sanctions.”

Then they showed Menendez’s reports for the relevant years.

Where it asks whether you, a spouse or dependent accepted any gifts worth more then $335 in the prior year, each time Menendez checked “No.”

With an FBI case agent on the witness stand, prosecutor Monique Abrishami asked, “Did Bob Menendez ever report any of the gifts he received from Dr. Melgen on his financial disclosure forms?”

“No,” said the FBI agent.

“No further questions,” she said.

Menendez Defense Attorney Abbe Lowell then started picking apart the witness.

“You’ve worked hundreds of hours on this case,” he told the agent. “Are you aware that some gifts may qualify for an exception to the Senate gift rule?”He didn’t get a yes or no answer.

Lowell then established that Menendez often paid for his own flights to get to Florida before boarding Melgen’s jet for the Dominican Republic.

“What kind of bribe is it to pay hundreds of dollars to get to stay at your friend’s house?” he asked the agent.

Friendship is the heart of the defense case. Judge William Walls at one point reminded those in the room, “I caution you, friends can be criminals. Friendship can be contaminated.”

The trial broke Wednesday for the Jewish holiday and resumes Monday.