Menendez jurors resume deliberations in bribery trial

AP News
Posted: Nov 07, 2017 10:22 AM
Menendez jurors resume deliberations in bribery trial

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Jurors resumed deliberations Tuesday morning in the bribery trial of Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend.

The panel reconvened after deliberating for about 90 minutes at the end of the day Monday, following attorneys' closing arguments.

Jurors heard about nine weeks of testimony overall and nearly eight hours of closing arguments. They didn't hear from Menendez or Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, his friend of more than 20 years.

The New Jersey Democrat is charged with accepting the gifts in exchange for pressuring government officials to resolve Melgen's $8.9 million billing dispute with Medicare, a port screening contract in the Dominican Republic and other issues.

Melgen also contributed more than $600,000 to political organizations that supported Menendez directly or indirectly.

The case could have implications for a deeply divided Senate if Menendez is convicted and he steps down or is voted out by a two-thirds majority, though neither scenario is considered likely. If either came to pass before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves office Jan. 16, the term-limited Republican governor could appoint a replacement.

A Democrat holds a comfortable lead in polls ahead of Tuesday's gubernatorial election to succeed Christie. Menendez is up for re-election next year.

A 2016 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the bribery conviction of former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will loom over jury deliberations. The ruling created a narrower definition of what are considered "official acts" in a bribery scheme, and U.S. District Judge William Walls used language directly from the court's ruling in his instructions to the Menendez jurors.

Defense attorneys focused part of their closing arguments on the requirement that the official — Menendez — has to agree to perform an official act "at the time of the agreement" to be found guilty, and told jurors the prosecution didn't present any evidence of an actual agreement between Menendez and Melgen.

Prosecutors argued to jurors that Menendez's meetings with officials in the departments of State, Commerce and Health and Human Services constituted official acts that were meant to benefit Melgen specifically.

Menendez's attorneys have argued he was focused on broader policy issues when interacting with the officials.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, served in the U.S. House from 1993 until filling the Senate seat vacated when Democrat Jon Corzine became New Jersey governor in 2006.