Judge tells Me­nen­dez jury to ‘take as much time as you need’

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By David Porter

NE­WARK » A judge told dead­locked ju­rors in Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez’s bribery trial on Tues­day to “take as much time as you need” to try to reach a ver­dict on 18 counts against the New Jersey Demo­crat and his wealthy friend.

The panel sent a note to U.S. District Judge Wil­liam Walls on Mon­day af­ter­noon say­ing they couldn’t reach a unan­i­mous ver­dict on any of the counts. Walls told them to sleep on it and re­turn in the morn­ing.

On Tues­day, he re­minded them that ju­ries fre­quently take time to come to a con­sen­sus.

“Take as much time as you need,” he said. “This is not re­al­ity TV. This is real life.”

De­lib­er­a­tions be­gan last week, but the jury restarted on Mon­day af­ter a ju­ror was ex­cused for a pre­vi­ously sched­uled va­ca­tion and was re­placed by an al­ter­nate.

The trial is in its 11th week. Me­nen­dez and Florida eye doc­tor Salomon Mel­gen are charged with run­ning a bribery scheme be­tween 2006 and 2013 in which Me­nen­dez lob­bied gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials on Mel­gen’s be­half in ex­change for lux­ury va­ca­tions and flights on Mel­gen’s pri­vate plane.

The men each face about a dozen counts in­clud­ing bribery, fraud and con­spir­acy. Me­nen­dez also is charged with mak­ing false state­ments for fail­ing to re­port Mel­gen’s gifts on Se­nate dis­clo­sure forms.

Both men deny the al­le­ga­tions. De­fense at­tor­neys have sought to show ju­rors that the two men are long­time pals who ex­changed gifts out of friend­ship. They also con­tend Me­nen­dez’s meet­ings with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were fo­cused on broad pol­icy is­sues.

The gov­ern­ment spent more than two years in­ves­ti­gat­ing the New Jersey sen­a­tor’s ties with Mel­gen be­fore in­dict­ing them in the spring of 2015. Me­nen­dez, the former chair of the Se­nate for­eign re­la­tions com­mit­tee, has main­tained his in­no­cence since then, and has raised more than $6 mil­lion for his cam­paign and le­gal de­fense fund since the in­dict­ment.

A mis­trial also would aid Me­nen­dez by not sub­ject­ing him to pres­sure to step down in the event of a con­vic­tion. Con­versely, the charges likely would be hang­ing over him as he seeks re-elec­tion next year, as­sum­ing the gov­ern­ment seeks a re­trial.

The trial is the first ma­jor fed­eral cor­rup­tion trial since a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing raised the bar for pros­e­cu­tors to prove of­fi­cial bribery. That rul­ing, which over­turned the con­vic­tion of former Repub­li­can Vir­ginia Gov. Bob McDon­nell, played a sig­nif­i­cant role in how the jury was in­structed in the Me­nen­dez trial.

SETH WENIG — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Demo­cratic U.S. Sen. Bob Me­nen­dez ar­rives at the fed­eral court­house in Ne­wark Mon­day.

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