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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Menéndez put ‘power up for sale,’ prosecution argues in bribery case

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) arrives for closing arguments in his corruption trial at Federal District Court in Manhattan, on Monday, July 8, 2024. Jurors have heard nearly two months of testimony in the case of Menendez, who is accused of bribery and corruption. (Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times)

By Tracey Tully, Benjamin Weiser and Nicholas Fandos

Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat accused of selling out his public office in pursuit of lucrative bribes, “put his power up for sale,” a federal prosecutor said Monday, the first of at least two days of closing arguments in a historic corruption case against a sitting senator who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The prosecutor, Paul Monteleoni, described gold bars and “envelope after envelope” of cash seized from the home of Menendez — once the chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee — as evidence of a “clear pattern of corruption” that involved promises of military aid to Egypt and financial gain for two New Jersey businesspeople, Fred Daibes and Wael Hana, who are on trial along with him. Menendez’s wife, Nadine, is also charged.

Here’s what to know about the trial:

— Trial timing: Prosecutors told the judge in the case, Sidney H. Stein, that their closing argument could take up to five hours — which would mean they would wrap up sometime Tuesday. Lawyers for the defendants would come next, with prosecutors having the chance to offer a rebuttal before the case goes to the jury.

— The allegations: Prosecutors described for the jury a list of official actions they say Menendez traded for bribes. These include ghostwriting a letter from Egypt lobbying senators to release military aid; trying to quash criminal cases for Daibes and another businessperson, Jose Uribe; and introducing Daibes to a member of the Qatari royal family who could invest in a real estate development.

— Key testimony: Uribe, who pleaded guilty to bribing the senator and agreed to cooperate with authorities, was a key government witness. In June, minutes after taking the witness stand in Manhattan federal court, Uribe testified that he had bribed Menendez by giving Nadine, who was not yet the senator’s wife, a luxury car.

— Menendez’s defense: The senator’s lawyers rested their cast last week without calling Menendez to testify in his own defense. They have argued that the government has attempted to criminalize routine legislative activity and have sought to shift blame to his wife, saying she kept the senator “in the dark on what she was asking others to give her.” Avi Weitzman, one of Menendez’s lawyers, told the jury in his opening statement that Nadine Menendez “tried to get cash and assets any which way she could.” She is also charged, but her trial was postponed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

— A historic prosecution: Menendez is the first senator ever indicted under the foreign-agent statute, and the first in the Senate’s 235-year history to be indicted twice in separate bribery cases. (His first prosecution ended in a mistrial in 2017.) Prosecutors have circled him for decades.

— Political fallout: The case has already dealt a near-lethal blow to Menendez’s four-decade political career. He did not run in the Democratic primary for his Senate seat last month. And while he has filed paperwork to run as an independent in November, polls show there is little chance he could win.

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