Updated 6:57 p.m. | Four bribery counts against Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and his longtime Florida friend and political donor have been struck down in a ruling that cites key campaign finance decisions, but 18 still stand.
A New Jersey federal judge sided with defense attorneys on counts stemming from Salomon Melgen's donations to Menedez's “Fund to Uphold the Constitution” legal defense fund that benefited the senator. Citing McCormick v. United States, a corruption case involving a West Virginia lawmaker, and the Citizens United ruling, the court determined two $20,000 donations were protected political speech. But the six opinions issued Monday also strike the latest blow to Congress' ability to shield its work from prosecutors under the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause.
According to the April 1 indictment, Menendez allegedly used his position as a senator to influence visa proceedings for Melgen's foreign girlfriends and advocated for his financial interests related to Medicare billing and shipping disputes. The judge rejected Menendez’s argument that those actions were protected, stating that some official acts, particularly those related to “oversight” of the executive branch, "fall into a 'middle category' of activities that are not 'clearly protected.'”
The court's decision is subject to immediate appeal.
Team Menendez intends to challenge several of the decisions in appeals court, according to Abbe D. Lowell, a Washington-based lawyer representing the senator. On Monday evening, Lowell expressed his client's confidence that he will be exonerated.
"We appreciate that the Court dismissed several counts in the indictment that we challenged, and there are still additional challenges pending in which decisions could impact the viability of other charges in the case," Lowell said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.
"Many of the motions raise important and novel legal questions that often require review by trial and appellate courts. The government, we, and even the court in this case acknowledged that additional review would occur here no matter how the motions were decided," he stated. "As we did when issues came up in the grand jury phase of this case, we intend to seek that additional review from the court of appeals on several of the decisions that were announced today."
Correction 6:19 p.m. An earlier version of this article misstated the nature and amount of charges against Menendez.
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