Closing Arguments in Menendez Bribery Case Set to Begin

Closing arguments are set to begin Monday afternoon in the corruption trial of Senator Robert Menendez, a powerful New Jersey Democrat accused of selling out his public office in pursuit of lucrative bribes.

The charges are among the most serious ever brought against a sitting U.S. senator. The government has accused Mr. Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of conspiring to trade his “influence and power” as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman to foreign governments and New Jersey businessmen in exchange for a Mercedes-Benz convertible, mortgage payments, gold and cash.

Mr. Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, some of which carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.

He is being tried in federal court in Manhattan alongside two of the businessmen, Fred Daibes and Wael Hana. Ms. Menendez’s trial was postponed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The case has already dealt a near-lethal blow to Mr. 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.

The case has already made history. Mr. 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. (This spring, Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, was charged with accepting bribes and acting as a foreign agent on behalf of the government of Azerbaijan.)

Here’s what else to know:

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

  • Prosecutors gave jurors a virtual tour of the Menendezes’ home in New Jersey, including the bedroom and closet where F.B.I. agents discovered cash and gold bars that the government says were paid as bribes.

  • A key government witness was Mr. Uribe, who pleaded guilty to bribing the senator and agreed to cooperate with the authorities. In June, minutes after taking the witness stand in Manhattan federal court, Mr. Uribe said he had bribed Mr. Menendez. He said he had given Ms. Menendez a Mercedes-Benz in exchange for gaining “the power and influence” of the senator.

  • The senator’s lawyers have argued that the government has attempted to criminalize routine legislative activity. And they have sought to shift blame to his wife, who, they said, kept the senator “in the dark on what she was asking others to give her.” Avi Weitzman, one of Mr. Menendez’s lawyers, told the jury in his opening statement that Ms. Menendez “tried to get cash and assets any which way she could.”

  • The senator’s sister, Caridad Gonzalez, testified about their parents’ journey from Cuba and the family’s practice of storing cash at home, offering justification for a habit the senator has said explains at least some of the roughly $480,000 F.B.I. agents seized during a search of his New Jersey home. “It’s a Cuban thing,” she said. “They were afraid of losing what they worked so hard for.”

  • Senator Menendez did not take the stand in his own defense.

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