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politicsUSA

Opening statements in a corruption case

United States Senator Robert Menendez (Democrat of New Jersey) arrives at Federal Court for his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York, United States, on May 14, 2024.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Prosecutors and defense attorneys prepare Wednesday to select a full jury and deliver opening statements in the federal corruption trial of Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

Judge Sidney Stein outlined that timeline Tuesday afternoon after two difficult days of hearings without a single juror seated for the trial of the Democratic lawmaker and two New Jersey businessmen in U.S. District Court from Manhattan.

Stein said he expects the jury box to be filled by mid-morning Wednesday “at the latest.”

Prosecutors will begin opening statements soon afterward “if everything goes as planned,” the judge said.

Menendez, 70, and his wife Nadine Menendez are accused in the case of accepting bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – including bags of cash, gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz convertible – in exchange for official acts from the senator.

Menendez, who until the indictment was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his wife are accused of using his political power to try to enrich three businessmen and benefit the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Due to recent medical problems, Nadine Menendez will later be tried separately from her husband and the two other defendants in this trial, Wael Hanna and Fred Daibes.

A third New Jersey businessman charged in the case, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in March and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

Nadine Menendez did not attend court with her husband. During the first two days of jury selection, he sat alone for long, silent periods while his lawyers met with potential jurors in a side room.

Nadine Menendez, the wife of Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat of New Jersey), leaves Manhattan Federal Court on October 2, 2023 in New York.

David Dee Delgado | Getty Images

Court records suggest Menendez’s lawyers may try to convince jurors he is innocent by arguing his wife is responsible because she withheld information and led the senator to believe their actions were lawful.

The first two days of the trial were largely devoted to a lengthy process of individual questioning of anyone who said they could not serve on the jury.

Dozens of people in the courtroom had held up their jury cards to potentially disqualify themselves from the trial, which could last seven weeks or more.

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By Tuesday evening, Stein had cut the number of potential jurors in half, to 75.

The judge then began questioning the jurors individually in open court about their professions, families, living situations, media habits, hobbies and interests.

Fred Daibes arrives at the Federal Court for his corruption trial involving U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), in New York, United States, May 14, 2024.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Potential jurors identified themselves only by their assigned number, but sometimes gave very personal answers.

One, a self-described podcast “addict,” said she had called into New York Public Radio veteran Brian Lehrer’s talk show “a million times.”

“He knows my voice,” the woman added.

Another prospective juror told the judge he lived alone and that his wife and son had recently died.

Wael Hana, co-defendant of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, arrives at federal court in New York, U.S., Monday, May 13, 2024.

Victor J. Bleu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A man who works as a lawyer at a bank told Stein that he had previously contributed to Menendez’s political campaign.

The donation came at the request of the US-Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to the man, who said he had made “dozens” of similar contributions over the years.

AIPAC endorsed Menendez in January, two months before the senator announced he would not enter the Democratic primary in a re-election bid, but left the door open to run as an independent.

This is developing news. Please check again for updates.

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