Jury selection continues in Sen. Bob Menendez’s bribery trial

As Judge Sidney Stein interviewed prospective jurors in a room just outside the courtroom for the federal New York corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey senator sat alone at a defense table Tuesday.

The judge has heard a number of reasons why possible jurors say they should be excused from Menendez’s trial, which could to stretch into July. Some have cited medical reasons; others said the trial would too adversely affect their jobs or travel plans.

However, several said they were worried that they’ve heard too much to be fair about the case in which the 70-year-old Menendez was charged with bribery, extortion, fraud and obstruction of justice, along with acting as a foreign agent of Egypt.

“I’m a news junkie, and I’ve learned about the case already significantly. I knew it was Bob Menendez the second I walked in,” one juror said.

“As did many people,” the judge retorted before asking if the man could still decide the case based on trial testimony. The man said he thought he could.

Jurors were identified only by numbers during the selection process. It was unclear when opening statements might begin. 

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Sen. Robert Menendez is seated in front of his codefendants Wael Hana, left, and Fred Daibes, right, on May 14, 2024, at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in New York City.  Andrea Shepard

Prosecutors say Menendez and his wife accepted bribes, including gold bars, cash and a luxury car, from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for official acts. He is on trial with two of the businessmen while a third has pleaded guilty in a cooperation deal and is expected to testify for the government.

Menendez’s wife is expected to go trial separately in July for health reasons. 

The defendants have all pleaded not guilty to charges that they used Menendez’s power as a senator to their advantage as he was showered with gifts.

After his arrest last fall, Menendez was forced from his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but has defied calls from members of his own party to step down before the end of his term in January. 

After three terms in the Senate, he has announced he will not be seeking reelection on the Democratic ticket this fall, although he hasn’t ruled out running as an independent.

“I am hopeful that my exoneration will take place this summer and allow me to pursue my candidacy as an independent Democrat in the general election,” he said in March. 

Menendez has faced trial before in an unrelated case. In 2017, a federal jury deadlocked on corruption charges brought in New Jersey and prosecutors did not seek to retry him.

In the new case, an indictment accused the senator of taking actions on behalf of the businessmen that would benefit the governments of Egypt and Qatar. Menendez has insisted he did not do anything unusual in his dealings with foreign officials.

According to an indictment, codefendant Fred Daibes, a real estate developer, delivered gold bars and cash to Menendez and his wife to get the senator to help him secure a multimillion-dollar deal with a Qatari investment fund by acting in ways favorable to Qatar’s government.

The indictment also said Menendez did things benefitting Egyptian officials in exchange for bribes from codefendant Wael Hana as the businessman secured a lucrative deal with the Egyptian government to certify that imported meat met Islamic dietary requirements.

The senator’s lawyers have asked the judge to allow the testimony of a psychiatrist who examined the senator. She concluded that Menendez stockpiled cash in his home as a “coping mechanism” after “two significant traumatic events” in his life, they said. Prosecutors oppose allowing her testimony, questioning the scientific basis for her conclusions and arguing it was an attempt to gain sympathy from the jury. 

Stein said Monday he would make a decision on expert witnesses “within the next few days.” 

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