Prosecutors oppose Sen. Menendez bid to alter trial schedule
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Prosecutors oppose U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s bid to have the judge in his corruption trial alter the trial schedule so he can be present for important votes in Washington.
The New Jersey Democrat made the request Thursday in a filing that mentions potential votes in September on raising the federal debt limit and approving a spending deal to avoid a government shutdown. Opening statements in his trial are scheduled for Sept. 6.
“As the recent vote on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act demonstrated, the Senate is divided by razor-thin margins on consequential legislation, making Senator Menendez’s absence from any particular vote potentially determinative,” his motion stated.
In a response filed Friday, the government accused Menendez of using his position to “pick and choose the dates on which his criminal trial will be conducted.
“This case is not about the Affordable Care Act, the debt ceiling, or the balance of power in the Senate,” prosecutors wrote. “The political consequences of defendant Menendez’s trial or criminal conviction should not be considered in the courtroom. This Court has consistently recognized that defendant Menendez is not entitled to special treatment because of his status. It should maintain that principle here.”
U.S. District Judge William Walls is expected to rule in the next few days. Walls already rejected Menendez’s request to delay the start of the trial until a Senate recess in October.
In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Menendez said he would seek to balance the demands of attending his trial and tending to his Senate business.
“I want the jury to understand that I fervently believe in my innocence,” he said. “If there is a moment where there is a critical vote, I have the constitutional right to go ahead and cast a vote and not be at the trial. I also have a constitutional right to be at the trial. So I will decide which of those constitutional rights I will exercise at any given moment.”
The 63-year-old Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen are charged with multiple fraud and bribery counts. Prosecutors say Melgen donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Menendez’s political campaign and legal defense fund, and paid for expensive trips for the senator in exchange for help with business disputes.
Both men have denied there was any bribery arrangement.
Menendez and Melgen each face three counts of honest services fraud, the most serious charge that carries a maximum 20-year sentence.