Sen. Bob Menendez’s lawyer tells jury in closing that prosecutors failed to prove a single charge

The attorney said there were too many gaps in evidence that prosecutors wanted jurors to fill in to conclude crimes were committed.

Sen. Bob Menendez

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., arrives at federal court, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

A lawyer for Sen. Bob Menendez on Tuesday urged jurors to acquit him of every charge at the Democrat’s New York City corruption trial, saying federal prosecutors had failed to prove a single count beyond a reasonable doubt.

The attorney, Adam Fee, told the Manhattan federal court jury that there were too many gaps in evidence that prosecutors wanted jurors to fill in to conclude crimes were committed.

And he defended over $100,000 in gold bars and more than $480,000 in cash found in an Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, home during a 2022 FBI raid, although he acknowledged of the valuables: “It’s provocative. It’s atypical.”

“Prosecutors have not come close to meeting their burden to show you that any of the gold or cash was given to Senator Menendez as a bribe,” Fee said.

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“This is a case with a lot of inferences,” he said, suggesting there were large gaps in the evidence that was unsupported by emails, texts or other evidence.

Earlier Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni said in a closing statement that began Monday that the senator had engaged in “wildly abnormal” behavior in response to bribes, including trying to interfere in criminal cases handled by the top state and federal prosecutors in New Jersey.

Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he accepted bribes including gold and envelopes of cash from 2018 to 2022 from three New Jersey businessmen who wanted his help in their business ventures.

His trial entered its ninth week on Monday.

Menendez is on trial with two of the businessmen — Wael Hana and Fred Daibes. Hana, who prosecutors say enlisted Menendez to help him gain and protect a monopoly on the certification of meat exported from the U.S. to Egypt, and Daibes, an influential real estate developer, have also both pleaded not guilty. A third businessman pleaded guilty and testified at the trial.

Early Tuesday, Monteleoni highlighted what he described as Menendez’s attempt to influence former New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in early 2019 to drop a criminal case on behalf of one of the bribe-paying businessmen with a false claim that investigators were discriminating against Hispanic truckers.

Grewal, now head of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, testified during the trial that he firmly rejected Menendez’s efforts to intervene in criminal probes before directing him to tell a New Jersey defense lawyer already involved in the case to register any complaints with a judge or the trial team.

The encounters with Grewal were cited by Monteleoni as examples of things Menendez did that the prosecutor said “were wildly abnormal.”

“Menendez is smart. Menendez is careful,” Monteleoni said, noting that the senator claimed discrimination in the trucking industry rather than directly asking that an investigation be shut down because he knew the latter would be wrong.

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He said claiming discrimination gave Menendez deniability if anyone ever accused him of trying to pressure New Jersey’s attorney general to drop a probe.

In reality, though, Menendez made the approaches to Grewal in return for a new Mercedes-Benz that the businessmen promised would be delivered to his then-girlfriend, Nadine Arslanian, who became his wife in fall 2020, Monteleoni said.

Nadine Menendez, 57, also is charged in the case, but her trial has been postponed while she recovers from breast cancer surgery.

Menendez has resisted calls, even by some prominent Democrats, that he resign, though he did have to relinquish his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the charges were unveiled last fall.

Several weeks ago, Menendez filed to run for reelection this year as an independent.

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