Jury selection begins in bribery case against Sen. Bob Menendez in New York

Jury selection began Monday in the federal criminal trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who is charged with accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes — including some in gold bars — in return for official acts.

The once-powerful former head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared in a Manhattan courthouse in a dark suit and sporting his senator pin.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein outlined the 18-count indictment against Menendez and two businessmen on trial as co-defendants and warned defense lawyers and prosecutors “to operate in good faith.”

He later told a pool of prospective jurors the trial could last six to seven weeks. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal estimated the timeline to present the prosecution’s case would be 4½ to 6½ weeks.

Menendez, 70, sat facing forward with his hands folded across his chest, occasionally tapping his fingers together. He did not turn around when Stein asked whether any potential jurors had reasons they would not be able to serve, prompting many to raise their hands.

The senior senator from New Jersey has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which he has described as “salacious,” and he faces decades in prison if found guilty.

The indictment alleges that federal investigators found over $480,000 in cash nestled away in the New Jersey home he shares with his wife, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe.”

It also alleges the couple received “gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other items of value,” such as jewelry and exercise equipment.

The senator’s wife, Nadine Menendez, has been charged, as well, but she will stand trial later because of a medical issue. She did not appear in court Monday.

Prosecutors with the office of U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York indicted the couple and three businessmen who allegedly bribed the pair in September of last year. One of those businessmen, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to cooperate with the probe. The other two, Fred Daibes and Wael Hana, have pleaded not guilty and will stand trial alongside Menendez.

The indictment alleges Menendez made positive statements about Qatar to help Daibes get a multimillion-dollar investment from a company tied to the country. The indictment noted a search of Menendez’s home in 2022 turned up “two one-kilogram gold bars and nine one-ounce gold bars that had serial numbers indicating they had previously been possessed” by Daibes.

Menendez is also alleged to have “provided sensitive U.S. Government information” and taken “other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt” in return for bribes from Hana.

Prosecutors have additionally charged Menendez with trying to impede federal investigations into him, his wife and Daibes and with attempting to intervene in the state prosecution of an Uribe associate and a state investigation into an employee of the businessman.

Menendez, who has faced widespread calls to resign from his Democratic colleagues, said in a speech on the Senate floor in January that there “will be at trial a full explanation of what is the truth about those issues, a truth that proves I am entirely innocent of the charges.”

He has also maintained the cash was all his. “For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” he said in a statement in September.

Court filings last week show Menendez is seeking to have a forensic psychiatrist testify in his defense. The psychiatrist would say Menendez is affected by “intergenerational family trauma, and how this disorder caused the Senator to develop a fear of scarcity and a coping mechanism of routinely withdrawing and storing cash in his home.”

He’s also seeking to have a forensic accountant testify that despite the prosecution’s assertion that Menendez has been living beyond his means, his “spending patterns were consistent with his lawful compensation and income.” Prosecutors are opposing their testimony.

The trial of the sitting U.S. senator is taking place roughly two blocks from where former President Donald Trump is standing trial in state court.

The federal criminal trial is the second Menendez has faced since he was elected to the Senate in 2006. He was charged in 2015 with illegally accepting favors from a Florida eye doctor, including flights on a private jet, three nights at a five-star hotel in Paris and more than $750,000 in political contributions for him and the Democratic Party. The case ended in a mistrial in 2017 after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict and prosecutors decided not to retry him.

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