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Jury Selection in Menendez Trial Stretches Into a Third Day

LocalJury Selection in Menendez Trial Stretches Into a Third Day

Jury selection in the corruption trial of Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey was slated to stretch into a third day on Wednesday, as a judge prepared to seat a dozen citizens who will soon weigh one of the most serious set of charges ever brought against a sitting senator.

The judge, Sidney H. Stein, spent much of Tuesday questioning dozens of potential jurors from New York City and Westchester County, quizzing them on their professions, experiences with the criminal justice system and preferred news sources. After hours in the Manhattan federal courtroom, he indicated a final panel was imminent.

“We will be picking a jury by the end of the morning,” Judge Stein said late Tuesday, adding that he expected to begin opening statements quickly thereafter.

Prosecutors will go first, offering jurors and the public a preliminary outline of a sprawling corruption and bribery case that involves $100,000 in gold bars, an Egyptian halal meat monopoly and a Qatari sheikh.

The government has accused Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of conspiring to trade his “influence and power” as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman to foreign powers and New Jersey businessmen in exchange for a Mercedes-Benz convertible, mortgage payments, gold and cash. When the F.B.I. began investigating, prosecutors say, the couple tried to cover it all up.

Mr. Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, some of which carry up to 20 years in prison. He is being tried alongside two of the businessmen, Fred Daibes and Wael Hana.

Prosecutors also charged Ms. Menendez, 57, but her trial was delayed until July after her lawyers told the court she had a serious medical condition requiring prompt treatment. She, Mr. Daibes and Mr. Hana have all pleaded not guilty.

Defense lawyers for Mr. Menendez, Mr. Daibes and Mr. Hana will each have their own opportunity to begin picking apart the government’s case in opening statements.

Mr. Menendez’s lawyers have indicated that they are preparing to blame Ms. Menendez, his wife of less than four years. If he chooses to testify, his lawyers have told the court, he could outline “the ways in which she withheld information” and “led him to believe that nothing unlawful was taking place.”

The case has already made history. Mr. Menendez is the first senator ever indicted under the foreign agent statute, and the first in the Senate’s 235-year history to be indicted twice in separate bribery cases. His first prosecution ended in a mistrial in 2017.

Here’s what else to know:

  • Jury selection has already lasted two days, while Judge Stein labored to find 12 jurors and six alternates to sit for a trial that could last two months. Prosecutors and defense lawyers will each get a chance on Wednesday to strike some of the potential jurors, who have not been identified by name.

  • The case has proceeded relatively quickly since the government first brought charges in September 2023. But the trial itself could be protracted, given the tangled web of international and domestic allegations. Judge Stein has laid out a timetable that could run until around July 4. Mr. Menendez, who has been in Congress since the 1990s, must be in court each day, meaning he will miss Senate votes and committee hearings.

  • Lara Pomerantz, an assistant U.S. attorney, is expected to deliver the prosecutors’ opening statement; the government indicated she will take roughly 45 minutes. Avi Weitzman, one of the senator’s lawyers, is expected to offer Mr. Menendez’s initial defense, which he told the court could take about an hour.

  • Prosecutors are prepared to detail a list of official actions they say Mr. Menendez agreed to take in exchange for the bribes. These include ghost writing a letter from Egypt lobbying senators to release military aid; trying to quash criminal cases to help Mr. Daibes and another businessman, Jose Uribe; and introducing Mr. Daibes to a member of the Qatari royal family who could potentially invest in a real estate development.

  • Mr. Uribe, a fifth defendant, has already pleaded guilty and could be called to testify later in the trial. At his plea hearing, Mr. Uribe admitted that he gave Ms. Menendez a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz convertible “in return for influencing a United States senator to stop a criminal investigation.”

  • In a setback for the senator, Judge Stein issued a ruling late Tuesday precluding his lawyers from presenting testimony from a psychiatrist who had evaluated Mr. Menendez. She had been expected to testify that at least some of the cash that authorities found in his home had been stockpiled by Mr. Menendez in response to “traumatic experiences in his past associated with cash and finances.” Prosecutors contend the funds were “fruits” of the bribery scheme.

  • Mr. Menendez’s trial in federal court is playing out just a few hundred yards from the New York state courthouse where former President Donald J. Trump is on trial on charges of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal.

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