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Opening Statements in Corruption Case

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), arrives at Federal Court, for his bribery trial in connection with an alleged corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen, in New York City, U.S., May 14, 2024. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

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

Judge Sidney Stein sketched out that timeline Tuesday afternoon after two plodding days in court passed without a single juror being seated for the trial of the Democratic lawmaker and two New Jersey businessmen in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

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

Prosecutors will begin their opening statements shortly afterward “if all goes to plan,” the judge said.

Menendez, 70, and his wife Nadine Menendez are charged in the case with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes — including bags of cash, gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz convertible — in exchange for official acts by the senator.

Menendez, who until the indictment served as 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.

Because of medical issues she has recently experienced, Nadine Menendez will be tried later separately from her husband and the two other defendants at 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 the federal prosecutors.

Nadine Menendez has not been in court with her husband. Over the first two days of jury selection, he sat alone for long, silent stretches while his lawyers met with prospective jurors in a side room.

Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) wife Nadine Menendez departs Manhattan Federal Court on October 2, 2023 in New York City.

David Dee Delgado | Getty Images

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

The first two days of the trial were largely consumed by a lengthy process of individually questioning anyone who said they could not serve as a juror.

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

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By Tuesday evening, Stein had whittled down by half the pool of potential jurors, to 75.

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

Fred Daibes arrives at Federal Court, for his bribery trial in connection with U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), in New York City, U.S., May 14, 2024. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Prospective jurors identified themselves only by their assigned numbers but occasionally gave highly personal answers.

One of them, a self-described podcast “junkie,” said she has called into the talk show of New York City public radio veteran Brian Lehrer “a million times.”

“He knows my voice,” the woman added.

Another would-be juror told the judge that he lives alone and that his wife and son recently died.

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

Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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

The donation was made after a request by the American 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 reelection bid but left the door open to run as an independent.

This is developing news. Please check back for updates.

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