Judge scolds lawyers for ‘gamesmanship’

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Senator Robert Menendez arrives at the federal courthouse in Manhattan, New York City on May 13, 2024.

Fatih Aktas | Anadolu | Getty Images

A judge warned lawyers Monday about playing legal games, shortly after they gathered for the start of the federal bribery trial of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

“There has been too much gaming here,” Judge Sidney Stein told prosecutors and defense attorneys before jury selection began for the trial in federal court in Manhattan.

“Everyone has to operate in good faith here,” Stein said, adding, “I’m not sure I saw that.”

Menendez, 70, wearing a dark suit and a striped red tie with his gold senator pin on his lapel, listened silently in the courtroom.

Two of his co-defendants, New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, sat behind him. Jose Uribe, a third businessman charged in the case, pleaded guilty on March 1 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The judge’s stern words ended an exchange over evidence that could be used in the trial of the once-powerful senator, who is accused of accepting cash, gold bars and other gifts in exchange for official acts.

Prosecutors allege Menendez took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from New Jersey businessmen for the benefit of themselves and the countries of Egypt and Qatar.

Menendez served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but resigned from that role after his indictment in September 2023.

He has pleaded not guilty to 16 crimes, including bribery, wire fraud, extortion, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice.

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His wife, Nadine Menendez, is also charged in the corruption case, but her trial was separated from her husband’s because of what her lawyers said were medical problems. Her trial will be postponed until at least July; She was not in court with her husband Monday morning.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York told Stein they expect to present their case within four to six weeks.

The trial itself could last about six to seven weeks, Stein told dozens of potential jurors before giving them a rough outline of the 18 charges against Menendez and his co-defendants.

The federal trial against the senator began just a few blocks from Manhattan Supreme Court, where former President Donald Trump is on trial on charges related to a scheme to silence porn star Stormy Daniels with hush money before the 2016 election.

This is news development. Check back later for updates.

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