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Menendez unable to do job due to bribery trial

Looks like New Jersey will be down a Senator in September.

The judge in Bob Menendez’s bribery case ruled that the trial would not be postponed to allow the disgraced Senator to cast votes in Washington. This decision effectively cuts New Jersey’s representation in half as Menendez fights charges that he accepted bribes from convicted felon Salomon Melgen in exchange for intervening in an investigation and obtaining visas for Melgen’s mistresses, among other charges.

Menendez Is Denied Reprieve From Corruption Trial to Cast Senate Votes

New York Times

Nick Corasaniti

August 23, 2017


NEWARK — When the 115th Congress returns to Washington on Sept. 5, Senator Robert Menendez will likely be absent: His federal corruption trial is set to begin here the following day.

But when the Senate moves to vote on major bills during the fall – including on the debt ceiling, his plan to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, even an unpredictable major foreign policy decision – Senator Menendez will be caught between his desire to remain in front of jurors and his congressional obligation to fight for his constituents.

His lawyers brought this issue before Judge William H. Walls on Tuesday, hoping to minimize the impact any court absence might have.

They made three requests: delay the start of the trial until after the fall congressional session; agree to postpone the trial on days when a key vote would be taking place; or have the judge formally explain to the jury that the senator could not be in court because he was in Washington.

Mr. Walls dismissed all three requests.

That will put the senator in a bind. Usually, defendants like to be as visible as possible in front of jurors, even if they are not testifying. But floor votes in the Senate can only be cast by sitting senators. Mr. Menendez will have to decide which to sacrifice.

And postponing the trial on certain days would have added to its length, a factor that matters more in this case than usual.

Should Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, be found guilty and removed from the Senate, his replacement would be appointed by the sitting governor. If that happens before Jan. 17, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, would likely appoint a member of his own party, tipping the Senate one more vote in the Republicans’ favor. Should it extend beyond Mr. Christie’s tenure, the next governor, potentially Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat who is leading in the polls by more than 20 points, would make the appointment.

Jury selection ended on Wednesday, with a panel of six men and six women set to decide whether Mr. Menendez accepted bribes as part of a scheme to trade political favors and influence for luxury vacations, campaign donations and expensive flights.

The jury had appeared set on Tuesday, but two asked to be excused late that afternoon, leading the process to continue into Wednesday. Another potential juror, a 7th grade teacher, was dismissed after apparently being caught texting friends that she was on the case, leading to a stern upbraiding by Judge Walls.

“You’re really no good as a juror, and you may not be any good as a teacher,” he said, glaring down at her. “I excuse you.”

Prosecutors and defense lawyers each eliminated the maximum number of jurors they were permitted — 10 for the defense and six for the prosecution. During interviews, potential jurors were asked about their reading and television habits, with their media outlets of choice implying they held certain beliefs.

One woman, who said she watches MSNBC every morning, reads The Star-Ledger and, on Sundays, The New York Times, was removed by the prosecution.

Another man wearing a black shirt with “You stomp my flag” and “I stomp you” scrawled across the back was dismissed by the lawyer representing Mr. Menendez’s co-defendant, Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, as was another who professed to listening to the Howard Stern Show and “other conservative radio.”

The jury selection comes more than two years after Mr. Menendez was indicted on eight bribery counts, the result of a federal investigation into Mr. Menendez’s relationship and dealings with Dr. Melgen.

Mr. Menendez is charged with receiving luxury hotel rooms, flights on Mr. Melgen’s private jet and donations to a Democratic super PAC in exchange for political advocacy, lobbying and favors, such as intervening to help obtain visas for Mr. Melgen’s college-age girlfriends from Brazil, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic.

Mr. Menendez is also accused of lobbying the Obama administration to change the Medicare reimbursement policy, which would have brought a financial windfall for Mr. Melgen.

Mr. Menendez’s legal team had managed to get some of the initial charges thrown out. But this week, the two men were indicted on similar charges which had been rewritten by prosecutors. On Tuesday, Mr. Melgen and Mr. Menendez pleaded not guilty to the new charges.

Whatever Mr. Menendez’s future presence in the courtroom — he has pledged to be there every day of the trial, pending possible Senate floor votes — he was quite visible throughout jury selection, arriving on Tuesday and telling reporters he was “looking forward to picking a good jury,” and that he expects to be exonerated of all charges.

Mr. Melgen also attended, remaining mostly silent. He sat four seats away from Mr. Menendez, and while they exchanged the occasional glance, the two men never appeared to speak.

Mr. Menendez sat silently for most of the process, reading from his massive three-ring binder, though he occasionally helped his team.

As his lawyer, Abbe Lowell, paced the courtroom late in the afternoon on Monday, debating a procedural issue with the judge over potential jurors being excused, Mr. Menendez looked up and extended one hand.

“I want juror 19,” Mr. Lowell told him.

Mr. Menendez flipped through the binder and pulled out a single sheet and handed it to Mr. Lowell, who made his way to the judge’s sidebar for a discussion. A few minutes later, juror 19 was excused by Judge Walls.

Opening arguments are set to be heard on Sept. 6. Judge Walls told the jury that he expected the trial to last six to eight weeks.