Jury picked, opening statements begin in US v. Menendez: 'Use your good judgment'

A dozen jurors and six alternatives were chosen Wednesday and began hearing opening statements in the high-profile federal corruption trial of New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez. Opening statements are expected to take up to three hours total, and prosecutor Lara Pomerantz was allotted 45 minutes. 

U.S. Judge Sidney H. Stein told the jurors, “use your common sense, use your life experience, use your good judgment.” 

Jurors will determine whether evidence against Menendez and two New Jersey businessmen, Fred Daibes and Wael Hana, shows a bribery scheme that allegedly involved meddling in criminal investigations and taking actions to benefit the governments of Egypt and Qatar. 

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Menendez “put his power up for sale,” while aiding the Egyptian government and trying to brush criminal cases under the rug in exchange for gold bars, jewelry, cash and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, according to the prosecutor’s opening statements.

“He was powerful,” Pomerantz said in opening statements. “He was also corrupt.”

The prosecutor said Daibes gave Menendez and his wife 1 kilogram gold bars worth, at the time, over $50,000 each and that Menendez Googled, “what is the price of a kilo gold bar?”

Pomerantz also said lab tests show multiple cash envelopes had Daibes fingerprints and DNA on them. Each gold bar has a unique serial number traced back Daibes and Hana. 

The government also said text messages and emails will take the jury inside the alleged scheme, hour by hour, minute by minute.

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Menendez’s attorney, Avi Weitzman, will have about an hour to present their defense, while Hana and Daibes’ attorneys are expected to each speak for about 30 minutes during opening arguments. 

In his opening statements, Weitzman described Menendez as “an American patriot,” waving away the claim that he’s a “foreign agent,” like the prosecution alleges, The Times reported.

All three alleged conspirators have pleaded not guilty, but co-defendant Jose Uribe has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the other defendants. A trial for the senator’s wife, Nadine, who is also charged and has also pleaded not guilty, is delayed until at least July for health reasons. 

This is the second time in a decade that Menendez has been accused in a federal corruption case. 

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On Tuesday, the judge told potential jurors that several sitting U.S. senators — including a couple rumored to be in consideration for the GOP vice presidential nod — are among a lengthy list of prominent individuals who could be called as witnesses.

The list included: David Axelrod, former political strategist for former President Barack Obama; Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware; Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y.; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia; former Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; former Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin; former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.; Sen. Kristen Sinema, I-Ariz.; and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland. 

Fox News’ Jennifer Johnson contributed to this report. 

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