Menendez's lawyer denies taking bribes and says gold bars are wife's property

Sen. Bob Menendez's lawyer began his defense in a Manhattan courtroom on Wednesday, insisting that the New Jersey Democrat was never involved international bribery program by federal prosecutors, claiming that there are “innocent explanations” for the tangle of alleged crimes which have already taken place turned Menendez's political profession on its head.

“They want you to be blinded by the gold and the cash,” Menendez attorney Avi Weitzman told the jury, suggesting that lots of the items the senator allegedly accepted as bribes – including gold bars and a luxury automobile – belonged to or was purchased by his wife Nadine, who can be charged and can stand trial in July.

Menendez was accused He acted as a foreign agent on behalf of Egypt and supported the federal government of Qatar while also accepting bribes from several New Jersey businessmen. He is being tried alongside two of his co-defendants: Wael Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman, and Fred Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer. All three pleaded not guilty. Menendez will not be running for re-election in next month's Democratic primary, but has said he would consider running as an independent if he’s exonerated.

In a federal courthouse, blocks from the previous location President Donald TrumpIn the hush money trial, prosecutor Lara Pomerantz told jurors in her opening statement that they’d see evidence and listen to testimony a few years-long conspiracy between Menendez, his wife and two New Jersey businessmen to simply accept bribes while using his power to acquire military aid for To influence Egypt and put pressure on prosecutors and investigators to drop investigations and criminal proceedings.

“Robert Menendez was an up-and-coming U.S. senator,” Pomerantz said. “Driven by greed, he focused on how much money he could put in his own pocket and that of his wife. That's why we're here today. That’s what this process is about.”

Nadine Menendez, who also pleaded not guilty, will not be yet on trial for her alleged actions and influence on her husband a crucial a part of the defense's opening statement. Weitzman repeatedly argued that the couple had mostly lived “separate lives” and had “separate finances.”

“They even had a separate cell phone plan,” he added, before detailing a series of “financial concerns” “that (Nadine) withheld from Bob,” and Weitzman described being smitten with a “beautiful and tall, international woman.” .

Weitzman also argued that Menendez “acted lawfully” in his role as a U.S. senator, portraying interactions that prosecutors described as corrupt as mere diplomatic efforts on behalf of the U.S. and advocacy on behalf of his constituents in New Jersey – including also some long-time friends.

“You may not like it,” Weitzman said, “but it’s not a crime.”

In explaining the gold bars investigators present in Menendez's home, Weitzman again pointed the finger on the senator's wife, who, he said, kept the “family gold.”

Nadine, Weitzman said, is from Lebanon, where holding gold is “cultural,” due partly to the region's historically unstable currencies, adding that gifts of gold and silver are common at weddings and engagements.

“The evidence will show that Nadine's family owned a lot of gold,” Weitzman said, asserting that she didn’t discuss money with the senator and kept any financial problems she was having secret from him.

Weitzman also said that the gold bars were present in Nadine's locked closet, which the senator didn’t have access to. To emphasize this point, the defense showed the court an image of a walk-in closet that appeared untidy.

Among the “innocent statements,” Weitzman said co-defendant Daibes' fingerprints on envelopes containing tens of 1000’s of dollars in money present in the senator's home were commonplace, and said the 2 had been friends for many years.

“Would you be surprised,” Weitzman asked, “if you found your boyfriend’s fingerprints on one of your belongings?”

Opening speeches for Daibes and Hana begin Thursday morning.

Jury selection

Pomerantz and Weitzman's opening statements began Wednesday after the swearing in of 12 jurors and 6 alternates.

While the just about three-day selection process for jurorsThe pool of potential jurors was read a listing of greater than 100 possible witnesses within the case, starting from sitting and former U.S. senators to several sheiks and former White House officials, in addition to a listing of corporations and organizations including Egyptian Foreign Ministry affairs .

The overwhelming majority of those on the witness list – which helps lawyers and the court reduce the variety of jurors – won’t be called to testify.

The potential jurors – a spread of New Yorkers including pastors, a standup comedian and amateur musicians – were asked whether or not they could possibly be unbiased and fairly consider testimony from law enforcement officials or convicted criminals.

“I have already told you, ladies and gentlemen, how important it is that this case be tried by a fair, impartial jury,” Federal Judge Sidney Stein told potential jurors on Tuesday, saying that meant that “people, who come without any bias” are willing to show themselves in. Apart from “hearing something about this case” they’ve heard from the media.

“This system will only work if people are fair, honest and impartial,” Stein said.

The initial group of 150 potential jurors was whittled all the way down to fewer than 100 after the primary phase of the choice process, by which people cited travel plans, including a bar mitzvah abroad and a Paris research fellowship, in addition to work and health concerns and asked if any difficulties faced them would prevent them from collaborating in a trial that might last over a month.

One potential juror spoke of being a “news junkie” who couldn't attend the trial because “I learned a lot about the case. When I walked in, I knew immediately it was Bob Menendez.”

Stein asked if the potential juror could disregard prior knowledge and rely solely on evidence and testimony to determine this case, to which the person replied, “I mean, I think so, but you know, that's something that I read.” to.”

“I don't want you to lose your job,” the judge said, “but by the identical token, I feel you’ll find this – I feel any jury would find this case … very interesting and insightful.”

During the more direct phase of questioning potential jurors about what they did for a living and where they got their messages, the judge was more light-hearted and joked with them at times.

After a potential juror said he worked in neuroscience, Stein told him that during a break he “needs to inform me how a worm gets into someone's brain,” referring to the independent presidential candidate The revelation of Robert F. Kennedy Jr a few parasitic worm that had previously invaded his brain.

“And again, I’m not doing this as a joke; I just want to avoid it,” the judge said.

This article and headline have been updated with additional information.

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