With his son and daughter on each of his sides a defiant Bob Menendez stood before reporters outside the Newark, NJ, courthouse where he will be tried, along with wealthy south Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, on numerous charges of corruption.
“I have never backed away from a fight that I didn’t believe was right, even if it meant opposing my own president and my own party. It’s who I am, and I’m not going to stop now,” the 63-year-old senior senator from New Jersey told reporters.
But minutes later U.S. District Judge William Walls gave an unequivocal win to prosecutors on Wednesday when he quashed a subpoena request by the senator’s lawyers, reported the website Politico. The subpoenas were meant to enforce subpoenas sent to six federal agencies seeking information to bolster Menendez’s defense case.
Menendez and Melgen are charged with conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud, and violating the federal Travel Act. Menendez is also charged with making false statements on government disclosure forms by failing to report the numerous plane flights and hotel stays he was gifted by Melgen.
Menendez’s initial bravado outside the courtroom was soon slapped down by Judge William H. Walls who told one of the defense attorneys, shortly after proceedings began, to “shut up for a moment if you don’t mind.”
Federal prosecutor Peter Koski, deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, NJ.com reports, opened the government’s case by stating, “This case is about a corrupt politician who sold his Senate office for a life of luxury he couldn’t afford.”
“Make no mistake about it, Robert Menendez was Salomon Melgen’s personal United States senator,” Koski said.
According to Koski, when Menendez wanted a lavish hotel room in Paris, he emailed Melgen all the details — right down the “limestone bath, soaking tub and enclosed rain shower, with views of the courtyards and the streets,” wrote Matt Friedman and Ryan Hutchins for Politico.
Abbe Lowell, Menendez’s defense attorney, said the prosecution’s arguments are moot because there was no bribery — no intent to accept a quid pro quo.
“It is that one word, friendship, that the evidence will show was the true nature” of their relationship, Lowell said. There’s nothing illegal or corrupt here if he acted out of that friendship, he said.
A grand jury in New Jersey first handed down charges against the two men in a 22-count indictment filed on April 1, 2015. Prosecutors this October filed a new 18-count “superseding” indictment amending the problematic legal language in the bribery accusations.
Melgen, 63, is already in federal custody, having been convicted at trial in January of a $90 million Medicare fraud scheme following an FBI investigation of the disputed billing practices.
The case is expected to continue for approximately six to eight weeks. If convicted, Menendez could lose his Senate seat, which some speculate could put the repeal of Obamacare in play again. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, would be charged with replacing Menendez if it comes to that.