Political News

Jurors appear to snooze as prosecutors detail Menendez travel

Posted September 19

Federal prosecutors spent hours detailing years-worth of private jets and other flight arrangements for Sen. Bob Menendez during his federal bribery trial Tuesday -- but they may not have had the jury's full attention.

At least four jurors appeared to doze off prosecutors guided FBI Special Agent Alan Mohl through dozens of records showing Menendez's travel to the Dominican Republic allegedly arranged by his friend and co-defendant, Dr. Salomon Melgen.

In the midst of a particularly drowsy stretch of testimony, defense attorney Abbe Lowell interjected: "If it would help save time -- we'd stipulate that all of these flights occurred."

Prosecutors, however, were unrelenting, and DOJ attorney Monique Abrishami said that the jury deserves to "see the evidence."

For days, prosecutors have introduced mountains of flight records, invoices and copies of passport entries to support their accusation that the doctor bribed the New Jersey Democrat with rides on private jets and luxurious vacations. Both men deny the charges.

But for the first time Tuesday, prosecutors attempted to weave together a chronology showing specific flights followed months later by political favors Menendez allegedly did on Melgen's behalf -- namely, evidence showing the senator helped several women to obtain travel visas into the US to visit Melgen.

The trial, now in week three, is expected to last until late October or beyond -- US District Court Judge William Walls has even approved a schedule stretching to Thanksgiving. Both sides continue to exhaustively fight over what jurors can or can't hear, often to Walls' annoyance.

"I'm sick and tired of listening to this," Walls said in court Monday. "We'll be here until this time next year if I permit you to ask needless questions."

Fight over CNN interview

Once the prosecution turned to evidence that Menendez allegedly "concealed" his travel, the coma lifted in the courtroom -- though outside the presence of the jury -- as prosecutors and the defense team battled with Walls over the scope of the evidence that should be admitted.

Prosecutors sought to introduce a 2013 interview Menendez did with CNN's Dana Bash on the grounds that he was "asked specifically about these flights."

In the clip, Menendez defended his delayed reimbursement of the trips, saying the flights occurred while he was frequently traveling for his campaign, so "it fell through the cracks," but denied that he purchased the service of prostituted women at sex parties in the Dominican Republic and called them "smears" pushed by "right-wing blogs."

"I just can't wait to see CNN," joked Walls, "I'm old enough."

Walls ultimately ruled the prosecution must use an edited clip of the interview, cutting out the portions on smears and prostitutes -- over the objections of the defense team who argued it should stay in for "context."

"Are you saying this is faux news?" Walls asked Lowell. "What's your problem with redacting?"

"There's no chance that this case can be completed, if it gets past the government's case, without the ability of people, and potentially the senator himself," explaining in their own words their "full context," Lowell said, suggesting Menendez may opt to testify in his own defense.

"I'm not going to let you get into a discussion about smears ... or right-wing activity," Walls said, saying it wasn't relevant to the allegations at issue in trial, and that it was "junk."

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