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News / Nation & World

Jury selection consumes a second day at corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez

Published: May 14, 2024, 9:41am

NEW YORK (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez sat by himself at a defense table Tuesday as prospective jurors who claim they can’t serve at his federal New York corruption trial were interviewed by a judge in a room just outside the courtroom.

Judge Sidney H. Stein has heard a variety of reasons why individuals say they should be excused from the trial of the Democrat that is projected to stretch to July. Some have cited medical reasons while others say their jobs or travel plans would be too adversely affected.

But several have said they worry that they have heard too much to be fair about the case in which Menendez, 70, 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 shot back 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.

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 goes to trial separately in July.

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.

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

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.