Menendez asks for trial schedule to allow Senate votes

AP News
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Posted: Aug 25, 2017 8:26 AM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has asked the federal judge in his upcoming corruption trial to alter the trial schedule so he can be present for important Senate votes in Washington.

The Democrat made the request Thursday in a filing that mentions potential votes in September on raising the federal debt limit and approving a spending deal to avoid a government shutdown. Opening statements in his trial are scheduled for Sept. 6.

"As the recent vote on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act demonstrated, the Senate is divided by razor-thin margins on consequential legislation, making Senator Menendez's absence from any particular vote potentially determinative," his motion stated.

If a defendant chooses not to attend his or her trial, "the jury may draw whatever inference it wants, including that the defendant did not care enough about his or her case," the motion continued.

U.S. District Judge William Walls is expected to rule in the next few days. Walls already rejected Menendez's request to delay the start of the trial until a Senate recess in October.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Menendez said he would seek to balance the demands of attending his trial and tending to his Senate business.

"I want the jury to understand that I fervently believe in my innocence," he said. "If there is a moment where there is a critical vote, I have the constitutional right to go ahead and cast a vote and not be at the trial. I also have a constitutional right to be at the trial. So I will decide which of those constitutional rights I will exercise at any given moment."

Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen are charged with fraud and bribery counts. Prosecutors say Melgen donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Menendez's political campaign and legal defense fund, and also paid for expensive trips for the senator, in exchange for help with business disputes.

Both men have denied there was any bribery arrangement.