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Justice Dept. Pushes Back Against Sen. Menendez's Defense

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
New Jersey Senate
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Justice Department pushed back Monday against efforts by Sen. Bob Menendez to dismiss the corruption indictment against him, calling the case the result of an "exhaustive, focused and disciplined" investigation that spanned more than two years.

The new court filings from the government are the latest volley in a high-stakes, bitter court case involving the New Jersey Democrat and a wealthy Florida eye doctor accused of bribing him with campaign contributions and lavish gifts. They represent the Justice Department's first response to an aggressive attack on the indictment made last month by the defense team, which submitted hundreds of pages of documents that sought dismissal of the charges and that accused government prosecutors of misconduct.

In urging a judge to reject the defense motions, prosecutors presented additional details and testimony intended to support the corruption allegations. They have charged Menendez with accepting from Dr. Salomon Melgen campaign contributions and luxury trips to Paris and the Dominican Republican in exchange for performing political favors on the eye doctor's behalf.

"No ordinary constituent from New Jersey received the same treatment, and the quid pro quo outlined in the indictment is clear and unmistakable," government lawyers wrote.

Menendez and Melgen have attacked the indictment on several grounds. Among their arguments is that the gifts and contributions were tokens of a decades-long friendship and did not represent any effort to curry political favor, and that the indictment risks criminalizing routine interactions between politicians and their supporters.

In a particularly provocative allegation — and one that the Justice Department on Monday called baseless and irresponsible — they accused prosecutors of knowingly eliciting false grand jury testimony from an FBI agent.

The agent's testimony centered on a critical meeting Menendez had with Kathleen Sebelius, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in which prosecutors say the senator sought to intervene on Melgen's behalf in a Medicare billing dispute worth millions of dollars.

Defense lawyers have argued that while the agent told the grand jury that it was "perfectly clear" the meeting was about Melgen, the agent's own internal notes show Sebelius told investigators that "she could not recall what Menendez specifically wanted" or whether Melgen's name came up during the meeting.

But on Monday, prosecutors countered that defense lawyers had relied on "selective snippets," made "creative use of ellipses" in quoting witness testimony and ignored incriminating statements from other participants in the meeting. They said the entire quotation from the FBI agent makes clear that he did not perjure himself and that the meeting was indeed about Melgen.

In addition, the Justice Department also defended the early stages of its investigation, which it acknowledged grew out of an unproven accusation that Menendez and Melgen were having sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

Defense lawyers contend that the case should be dropped because the investigation began over false, salacious allegations that were never charged or included in the indictment. But prosecutors said they had a duty to look into the matter and that the allegations were "not so easily disprovable."

They say the defense argument, if adopted, "would result in the dismissal of countless indictments brought around the country initiated by tips from a scorned lover, disgruntled employee, rival gang member, or cheated business partner."

Separately on Monday, defense lawyers said they were subpoenaing for records six federal agencies, including the CIA, the State Department and the Homeland Security Department.