Prosecutors opened the corruption trial of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez saying he “sold his office for a lifestyle he couldn’t afford” to achieve favors for campaign donor Salomon Melgen.
Menendez is accused of using his influence as a senator to assist the Florida opthamologist in securing visas for one of Melgen’s girlfriends and her sister from the Dominican Republic.
“There’s no friendship exception to bribery. There’s no friendship exception to breaking the law,” Justice Department Attorney Peter Koski said, according to The Associated Press.
Menendez’s attorney Abbe Lowell contended that the government has no evidence of an arrangement between the senator and Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor.
Lowell told jurors that Menendez was doing “what 535 members of Congress do all the time” and that his meetings with executive branch officials could have benefited Melgen, but they were focused on future policy.
Menendez defended himself before the trial started, standing outside the courthouse with his adult children.
“I started my public career fighting corruption — that’s how I started — and I have always acted in accordance with the law,” he said. “And I believe when all the facts are known, I will be vindicated.”
A conviction could roil the makeup of the Senate as New Jersey’s governor, Republican Chris Christie, could appoint a Republican replacement before next year’s Senate election, as he did when late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg died in 2013.