Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case

Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case

A federal judge presiding over the corruption and bribery case against Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case Menendez jury deadlocked, ordered to keep trying MORE (D-N.J.) has declared a mistrial after the jury said that it was deadlocked and unable to make a decision.

After more than a week of deliberations, the jury said that it could not reach a consensus on whether Menendez committed bribery by accepting gifts, campaign donations and vacations from a wealthy Florida eye doctor in exchange for political favors — or if the benefits were simply products of a long-time friendship between the two men.

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The jury had previously said that it was deadlocked and could not reach a verdict in the case. But U.S. District Judge William Walls on Nov. 13 told jurors to go home, clear their heads and try again.

After several more days of deliberations, however, jurors were still unable to reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges against Menendez and co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor.

Jurors sent a note to Walls shortly before noon on Thursday, explaining that they remained unable to agree on a verdict.

“We cannot reach a unanimous decision,’’ the note said, according to The Washington Post. “Nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions.”

Walls then proceeded to interview jurors in his office, before eventually declaring that "there is no alternative but to declare a mistrial.”

The announcement came hours after an alternate juror joined the group. One of the original jurors, who was dismissed to go on a long-planned vacation, told reporters that the jury was divided in the case, and that she thought Menendez should be found not guilty.

The announcement on Thursday is largely considered a win for the embattled senator, though federal prosecutors could move to put him on trial again. Menendez's defense attorneys repeatedly asked Walls to declare a mistrial.

Weighing on the case was a 2016 Supreme Court ruling overturning the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. That decision narrowed the definition of what counts as corruption by public officials by specifying that certain activities do not amount to “official actions” by a lawmaker.

Federal prosecutors alleged that from the time Menendez entered the Senate in 2006, he had traded political favors for a life of leisure on Melgen’s dime.

Menendez got trips on the doctor’s private jet, vacations in Paris and the Dominican Republic and $750,000 in campaign contributions, the government argued in the court proceedings.

In exchange, prosecutors charged, the New Jersey Democrat helped Melgen’s foreign mistresses secure visas, intervened in a multimillion-dollar Medicare dispute and pressured U.S. officials to safeguard a lucrative port security contract in the Dominican Republic.

Prosecutors also detailed alleged efforts by Menendez to cover up his dealings with Melgen, pointing to the senator’s failure to disclose trips on the doctor’s plane — among other gifts — and the fact that he repaid Melgen for two of the flights two years later, only after coming under scrutiny by the news media.

In fact, prosecutors said that Menendez took many more trips on Melgen’s plane that he did not disclose and never paid for.

Lawyers for Menendez cast the lack of disclosures as an oversight — that the flights simply slipped between the cracks. As for the other gifts and donations, they argued, they were the product of a decades-long friendship between the two men — one that they described as a deep fraternal bond.

In witness testimonies, Melgen’s wife, Flor Melgen, and Menendez’s son, Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case Menendez jury deadlocked, ordered to keep trying MORE, Jr., portrayed the two men as being like “brothers,” and that the trips they took together to the Dominican Republic were innocent getaways.

"They're the best when they're together," Menendez Jr. said on the witness stand. "They're like brothers to each other."

Speaking at a news conference shortly after the mistrial was declared, an emotional Menendez thanked his family, friends and supporters for standing behind him throughout the trial, and touted the mistrial decision as a rebuke of federal prosecutors’ case against him.

"The way this case started was wrong, the way it was investigated was wrong, the way it was prosecuted was wrong and the way it was tried was wrong as well," he said.

The corruption charges against Menendez have thrown his political future into uncertainty. A guilty verdict against the senator would not automatically remove him from the chamber, though his colleagues could vote to expel him or he could choose to resign.

Regardless of the verdict, the case has rocked Menendez's political career. He is up for reelection in 2018, and a Quinnipiac University poll released in September, shortly after the senator’s trial got underway, found little support for his reelection amid the allegations.

Less than two hours after the mistrial was declared, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (R-Ky.) called for the Senate Ethics Committee to open up an investigation into the New Jersey Democrat and the circumstances that led to his indictment in the first place.

“Senator Menendez was indicted on numerous federal felonies. He is one of only twelve U.S. Senators to have been indicted in our history,” McConnell said in a statement. “His trial shed light on serious accusations of violating the public’s trust as an elected official, as well as potential violations of the Senate’s Code of Conduct.”

—Last updated at 2:36 p.m.