With a bolstered defense team, Sen. Robert Menendez is pushing back against corruption charges filed by the Justice Department, arguing much of his conduct is shielded from prosecutors under the Constitution and alleging false testimony from an FBI agent.
The prosecution "repeatedly injected sexual innuendo and other irrelevant lines of questioning into this case" to prejudice the grand jury against the New Jersey Democrat, states one page of the hundreds filed in federal court Monday by lawyers representing Menendez. Attorneys seek dismissal of 14 counts related to public corruption. Menendez has also requested information from DOJ regarding the involvement of Cuban intelligence, materials from other executive agencies, contributions to and actions by other senators identified in the April 1 indictment. The defiant senator wants the government to review the personnel files and internal affairs files concerning one FBI agent and "any law enforcement witness the government intends to call at trial, for evidence of dishonesty or other misconduct and to produce such evidence to the defense.”
DOJ argues Menendez is not entitled to see some of the evidence he is requesting, including files related to a Medicare fraud investigation into Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor and Menendez donor. Menendez and Melgen were indicted this spring for one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements.
Menendez recently hired Stephen M. Ryan, head of the Government Strategies Practice Group at McDermott Will & Emery LLP, and former general counsel to what is now the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Ryan joins Abbe Lowell, a partner at Chadbourne & Parke, and other high-profile white collar defense attorneys.
The corruption case might hinge on what Menedez staffers have to say, CQ Roll Call has previously reported. It may be hard to prove the protection guaranteed in the Constitution applies to his corruption case, but defense attorneys intend to try.
"The Speech or Debate Clause is not a legal technicality; it is not a gift to Congress; and it is not a side door exit for misbehaving legislators," states one filing. "The absolute immunity provided to Members of Congress by the Speech or Debate Clause is very similar to the absolute immunity provided to members of the Judicial and Executive Branches."
Resolving the issue could delay the start of the case. A hearing is scheduled for September.
In June, the Supreme Court declined to hear former Rep. Rick Renzi’s latest appeal in a long-running legal battle that has centered on interpretation of the Speech or Debate Clause.
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