Deliberations expected in Sen. Bob Menendez trial after attorney wraps up closing arguments

BySabrina Souza, Nicki Brown and Kara Scannell, CNN CNNWire logo
Thursday, July 11, 2024
Deliberations expected in Sen. Bob Menendez trial after attorney wraps up closing arguments
Sen. Bob Menendez's defense attorney wrapped up his closing arguments Wednesday.

NEW YORK -- Sen. Bob Menendez's defense attorney wrapped up his closing arguments Wednesday, saying the case against the New Jersey Democrat was "shaky and rotten to its core."

"This case dies here today because they have failed to prove, they have failed to prove to that very high standard that Bob's actions were anything other than exactly what we want our elected officials to do. He was doing his job, and he was doing it well," the senator's attorney Adam Fee said in Manhattan criminal court.

"Resist the temptation to pick a salacious story about a corrupt politician because it's not, it's not there, " Fee said. "You must acquit because there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Bob took anything in exchange for a particular official action."

Menendez and his co-defendants, New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, are accused of participating in a yearslong bribery scheme. Federal prosecutors say the senator tried to use his power to advance Egyptian military interests, interfere in criminal prosecutions, and secure investment from Qatari officials, among other things. Menendez and his wife allegedly received gold bars, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, a Mercedes Benz convertible and other bribes in exchange for his influence.

The senator's wife, Nadine Menendez, was also charged in the case, but will be tried separately later this year after she was granted a delay by the judge so she can focus on her treatment for breast cancer. She has pleaded not guilty.

RELATED: Sen. Bob Menendez's lawyer tells jury that prosecutors' bribery case 'dies here today'

Bob Menendez's team called a total of five witnesses to testify in his defense during the trial, though not the senator himself. In all, 37 witnesses were called over the nine-week trial.

Fee began his fiery closing arguments Tuesday afternoon and concluded Wednesday morning after spending roughly five hours addressing jurors.

Fee said Tuesday that federal prosecutors had presented a "cherry-picked" case that asks the jury to convict the senator based solely on non-credible "inferences" and not on evidence.

"Assumption, speculation, fantasy, conjecture. They will call it inference, it's not," he told jurors. "You are being asked to imagine, in the gaps of evidence, the criminal stuff."

In reference to the cash and gold found in the Menendez home, Fee reiterated that Bob Menendez customarily stored cash due to familial trauma from fleeing Cuba and that Nadine Menendez already owned gold, gifted to her by her family.

"They want you to conclude that every dollar, every piece of gold, every item of value that you have heard a reference to in this case, must've been a bribe," he said.

RELATED: In closing, prosecutor says Sen. Bob Menendez's behavior in response to bribes was 'wildly abnormal'

Fee said the senator didn't even know about the gold that the FBI seized from the Menendez home during the raid on June 16, 2022. He said that the cash found inside the senator's home office was money he had withdrawn and that the cash found in the basement, stuffed inside shoes and jacket pockets, could not reasonably be pointed back to his client.

The FBI seized a total of $486,461 of cash, 11 one-ounce gold bars, and two one-kilogram gold bars from the home, according to trial testimony.

'Corruption on a massive scale'

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday concluded their closing arguments, which also lasted approximately five hours over two days.

"This is a big case, but it all boils down to a classic case of corruption on a massive scale," Assistant US Attorney Paul Monteleoni told the jury. "It's about a politician who put his power up for sale and the people who were willing to buy it from him."

In his closing arguments, Monteleoni challenged the defense's suggestion that Nadine Menendez kept her husband in the dark about key parts of the alleged quid pro quo scheme.

"The pattern was the same: Menendez was in charge," the prosecutor said Monday. "His wife, Nadine, was his go-between, demanding payment, receiving payment, passing messages but always, always keeping him informed."

"You don't get to be the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by being clueless," Monteleoni said of the senator.

RELATED: Sen. Bob Menendez says he didn't testify because prosecution failed to prove its bribery case

On Tuesday, Monteleoni focused on the part of the alleged scheme involving Jose Uribe, the New Jersey businessman who allegedly bribed the senator in exchange for legal favors and pleaded guilty before the trial began. Uribe testified in June that he gave Nadine Menendez a Mercedes-Benz convertible in exchange for the senator's promise to intervene in criminal investigations into his associates.

Monteleoni said messages between the senator and his wife show that he was "in the weeds on the whole car purchase."

Uribe previously testified that during a 2020 dinner, the senator told him in Spanish, "I saved your a** twice. Not once, but twice."

"That is the boast of a corrupt politician about wielding power for the private benefit of the person paying him bribes," Monteleoni said Tuesday.

Menendez's attorneys consistently tried to undermine Uribe's credibility during the trial. On Wednesday, Fee argued that Uribe was "good liar" who "embellished" his testimony to "invent corroboration" with other evidence of text messages, phone calls and restaurant meetings that were presented at trial.

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