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Updated May 16, 2024, 5:11pm EDT
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At corruption trial, Menendez defense pins blame on wife

Insights from The Washington Post, Politico, and Semafor

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Sen. Bob Menendez exits Federal Court after the first day of his bribery trial on May 13, 2024.
Brendan McDermid/REUTERS
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The News

Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial started with a bang on Wednesday as his lawyer argued in opening statements that the New Jersey Democrat was not part of an international bribery scheme as described by federal prosecutors — his wife was. Menendez’s attorney insisted there were “innocent explanations” for the alleged crimes, and immediately tried to shift the blame to Menendez’s wife, who is also charged in the alleged plot and will be tried separately.

Menendez faces a slew of felony charges — including bribery, extortion, and acting as a foreign agent for Egypt — for allegedly peddling his influence in Congress to foreign entities and New Jersey businessmen in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, some of which came in the form of solid gold bars. Both Sen. Menendez and his wife have pleaded not guilty.

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The senator has been indicted on corruption charges in the past — once in 2015; That case ended in a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Menendez’s defense places blame on his wife

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Sources:  
The Washington Post, The New York Times

While federal prosecutors sought to paint Menendez as money-hungry and corrupt, his defense took a different — albeit, controversial — route: It was all his wife’s fault, they argued. After the couple married in 2020, Sen. Menendez’s attorney claimed Nadine kept him “in the dark” about her complicated web of financial relationships. (Nadine will be tried separately from her husband, and the arguments brought in this case are unlikely to be admissible in her trial.) The prosecution waved off the defense’s characterization, alleging Sen. Menendez was a “senator on the take.”

Democrats, while conflicted, still need Menendez’s vote

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Sources:  
Politico, NBC News

“For now, as much as Democrats might not like it, they need” Menendez, Politico wrote. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has declined to force him to resign — though Schumer admitted Menendez’s conduct fell “way, way below” the standard of the office. The party seems to be reluctantly keeping him around because his vote is critical in their narrow majority in the Senate. That’s not to say the indictment hasn’t stirred condemnation: More than 30 Senate Democrats have called for his resignation. The embattled senator said he will not run for reelection as a Democrat, but he also left open the possibility of an independent run.

Menendez earns strange new respect from Trump

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Source:  
Semafor

Menendez’s indictment has secured him an unusual defender: Donald Trump. The former president called the charges an “attack” on the senator by President Joe Biden, “because [Menendez] wasn’t getting along too well with the Democrats and with Biden and he disagrees with Biden on a lot of things.” This is a known strategy of Trump’s, Semafor’s David Weigel wrote: “demanding individual Democrats be investigated or jailed, while also rallying to defend ones who actually do end up charged with crimes.” It fits neatly into the Republican presidential candidate’s broader mission of showing voters that federal prosecutors can’t be trusted — a salient point from a man facing two federal indictments for a litany of alleged felonies.

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