Deliberations Continue At Sen. Menendez Trial

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jury deliberations continue at the bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend.

Menendez is accused of accepting gifts from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, the senator’s friend of more than 20 years, in exchange for using his office to advance the doctor’s personal and business interests.

On Tuesday, a juror asked the judge for the definition of a senator.

The judge declined to answer, telling the jury to rely on their memories to determine how to define “a senator.”

The jury remained behind closed doors Wednesday, hard at work since arriving for a second full day of deliberations.

By midday the only request they had made to the judge came shortly after they arrived, when they asked to leave an hour earlier because of “horrific traffic jams” leaving Newark the day before.

If the panel doesn’t reach a verdict by the end of Thursday’s session, U.S. District Judge William Walls has already said he will excuse a juror who told him before the trial that she had a vacation scheduled to begin next Monday. In that event, an alternate would take her place and deliberations would start anew, Walls said last week.

The two men face multiple bribery and fraud counts, and Menendez also is charged with making false statements on Senate forms by not disclosing Melgen’s gifts.

The jury began deliberations late Monday afternoon after hearing nearly eight hours of attorneys’ closing arguments and roughly nine weeks of testimony. They were sent out of the room on numerous occasions during the trial so that attorneys on both sides could engage in legal mud-wrestling over the finer points of federal bribery statutes.

Many of the disputes arose because Menendez trial is the first major federal corruption trial since a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling narrowed the definition of what constitutes an “official act” in a bribery scheme and raised the bar for bribery prosecutions.

Walls rejected defense attorneys’ arguments that the Supreme Court ruling invalidated the so-called “stream of benefits” theory, in which specific gifts need not be tied to specific official actions to be considered bribes. Instead, they focused in closing arguments on language from the ruling that requires Menendez to have agreed to take official action at the time a bribery agreement was made.

They claim the prosecution didn’t present evidence of an explicit agreement between the two men. Prosecutors countered that they were only required to demonstrate an implicit agreement.

A conviction would not only end Menendez’s political career, but likely result in a prison term.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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