Gold Bars, Cash, And A Mercedes: Menendez Bribery Trial Takes A Twisty Turn With NEW Key Testimony

By Javier Sanchez | Thursday, 20 June 2024 09:20 PM
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Image Credit : Reuters

In a recent development in the ongoing bribery trial of Senator Bob Menendez, the top federal prosecutor in New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger, testified that the Democratic lawmaker never pressured him to act improperly.

This report comes from American Military News, which has been closely following the case.

Menendez, 70, stands accused of accepting bribes in the form of gold bars, cash, and a Mercedes Benz from businessmen seeking political favors. Among these businessmen is developer Fred Daibes. Prosecutors allege that Menendez attempted to influence the outcome of a separate fraud indictment against Daibes in New Jersey.

Sellinger, during his testimony, recalled a conversation with Menendez regarding his potential endorsement for the U.S. attorney's post. He quoted Menendez as saying that Daibes "was being treated unfairly, and Senator Menendez hoped that if I became U.S. Attorney that I would look at it carefully." However, Sellinger clarified during cross-examination that Menendez did not pressure him or use aggressive language during their December 2020 conversation. "I did not believe that he was asking me to do anything other than my official duty," Sellinger told the jurors.

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Avi Weitzman, Menendez's attorney, asked Sellinger to confirm that Menendez did not ask him to "put your thumb on the scales of justice," to which Sellinger agreed.

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The prosecution is attempting to establish that Menendez and Daibes entered into an illicit agreement. They argue that Menendez recommended Sellinger, a long-time friend and fundraiser, for the prosecutor's post because he believed Sellinger could be influenced in the Daibes case.

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Menendez faces multiple charges of bribery plots and acting as an agent of Egypt. He is on trial alongside Daibes and Egyptian American businessman, Wael Hana. Another businessman, Jose Uribe, who has already pleaded guilty, testified that he bribed Menendez's wife, Nadine, with a Mercedes Benz to influence two criminal investigations in New Jersey. Nadine Menendez will face a separate trial due to her ongoing battle with cancer.

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Sellinger testified that he informed Menendez that he would consult the Justice Department about the need to recuse himself due to his involvement in private litigation against Daibes. Following this, Menendez withdrew his endorsement for Sellinger, favoring Hispanic prosecutor Esther Suarez instead. However, Suarez's candidacy fell through after a series of damaging news articles, leading Menendez to endorse Sellinger's nomination by President Joe Biden.

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Sellinger noted that their long-standing friendship cooled after he distanced himself from elected officials upon assuming his new role. After his appointment, Sellinger was recused from the Daibes case, which later saw Daibes plead guilty under a deal offering probation. However, the judge later dismissed the plea.

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Upon leaving the courthouse, Menendez stated, "Sellinger made it very clear — he was asked to do nothing wrong and he did nothing wrong."

The trial, which has seen more than a dozen witnesses since its commencement last month, was delayed due to Daibes contracting COVID. U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein informed jurors that the trial could extend until mid-July, despite initial estimates of a six-week duration.

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Following Sellinger's testimony, jurors heard from Michael Soliman, a top political advisor to Menendez. Soliman shared that Menendez's former chief of staff, Fred Turner, informed him in late 2020 that "the senator and Mr. Sellinger had a falling out and the senator was going to go in a different direction."

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Soliman kept Menendez updated about Suarez's failing candidacy and the general consensus that she was not the right person for the job. Weitzman suggested that Menendez considered Suarez due to a Biden directive to increase diversity in appointments like U.S. attorneys. He aimed to counter the prosecution's allegation that Menendez recommended Sellinger's nomination by Biden for corrupt reasons.

When asked about Sellinger's reputation in the legal community and his qualifications for the U.S. attorney post, Soliman agreed that Sellinger was "clearly qualified" and held in "wide respect." He also confirmed that Menendez never told him that he asked Suarez about the Daibes case.

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