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Bob Menendez declines to testify in his bribery trial as defense rests

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., leaves federal court following the day's proceedings in his bribery trial on Wednesday in New York.
Larry Neumeister
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., leaves federal court following the day's proceedings in his bribery trial on Wednesday in New York.

NEW YORK — New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said he chose not to testify Wednesday at his New York trial because he believes prosecutors failed to prove “every aspect” of the bribery case against him, a decision that cleared the way for closing arguments as early as Monday.

Lawyers for the Democrat rested their case after calling several witnesses over two days to counter seven weeks of testimony and hundreds of exhibits and communications introduced by Manhattan federal prosecutors.

Menendez, 70, maintains he is not guilty of charges that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold and cash from 2018 through 2022 in exchange for using his clout in the Senate to deliver favors benefiting three New Jersey businessmen.

Judge Sidney H. Stein asked Menendez to rise from his seat to confirm that the decision not to testify was his alone. Menendez said that after extensive talks with his lawyers, he had decided against taking the stand.

As he left the courthouse, Menendez told reporters: “From my perspective, the government has failed to prove every aspect of its case.”

He said that to “give them another chance" by taking the witness stand was “simply not something that makes any sense to me whatsoever.”

“I expect my lawyers will produce a powerful and convincing summation, deduce how the evidence came out, and where they failed across the board, and how the jury will render a verdict of not guilty,” Menendez said before wishing reporters who followed him to his car a “Happy Fourth of July.”

Two of the businessmen he is accused of accepting bribes from — Fred Daibes and Wael Hana — are on trial with him. A third, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty to charges and testified against the trio during the trial.

Daibes and Hana also have pleaded not guilty and were given an opportunity to present a defense, though the judge told jurors that the burden is on prosecutors and a defense was not required. Lawyers for Daibes rested at the same time as Menendez without presenting a defense. Hana’s lawyers began presenting their case by calling one of Hana's employees as a witness.

Prosecutors took seven weeks to present their case before resting last Friday. They offered evidence to show that Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, served as a go-between most times to connect the senator and the businessmen.

Nadine Menendez, 57, who began dating the senator in 2018, has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges, but her trial has been postponed as she recovers from breast cancer surgery.

Lawyers for Bob Menendez have argued that his wife hid her financial troubles from him, including an inability to afford mortgage payments on her Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home, along with many of her dealings with the businessmen. They’ve also said she inherited gold found in her bedroom during a 2022 FBI raid on their home.

An FBI agent testified earlier in the trial that he ordered the seizure of more than $486,000 in cash and over $100,000 in gold bars during the raid because he suspected that a crime may have taken place.

Among witnesses called by Menendez’s lawyers was his sister, Caridad Gonzalez, 80, who told the jury that members of her family routinely stored large amounts of cash at their homes after Menendez’s parents fled Cuba in 1951 with only the money they had hidden in the secret compartment of a grandfather clock.

“It’s normal. It’s a Cuban thing,” she said.

Bob Menendez was born after the family arrived in Manhattan.

Menendez has pleaded not guilty to bribery, fraud, extortion, obstruction of justice and acting as a foreign agent of Egypt. After the charges were announced in September, he was forced out of his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He has resisted calls to resign from the Senate and a month ago filed papers to run for reelection as an independent.

Prosecutors allege that Daibes delivered gold bars and cash to Menendez and his wife to get the senator’s help with a multimillion-dollar deal with a Qatari investment fund, prompting Menendez to act in ways favorable to Qatar’s government.

They also say Menendez did things benefiting Egyptian officials in exchange for bribes from Hana as the businessman secured a valuable deal with the Egyptian government to certify that imported meat met Islamic dietary requirements.

A previous corruption prosecution of Menendez on unrelated charges ended with a deadlocked jury in 2017.

Copyright 2024 NPR

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]