The federal judge overseeing New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s criminal trial declined to dismiss the charges against him Monday, after defense lawyers argued that the prosecution had failed to make its case.
U.S. District Judge William Walls rejected Menendez’s claim that the prosecution’s arguments were too broad to meet the narrow definition of corruption in federal law.
The U.S. Supreme Court established in a 2016 case that public officials only violate anti-corruption laws when they accept gifts, payments, or benefits in exchange for a specific and official act. Menendez’s lawyers argued that the government failed to show that the senator took specific and official actions as the result of a donor’s gifts. Prosecutors have put forward a “stream of benefits” theory of their case, in which they say Menendez performed favors for a donor over a period of years in exchange for lavish benefits like vacations and charter flights. Though the senator’s acts and the donor’s gifts may not chronologically coincide, prosecutors say their relationship was still corrupt.
Though Walls previously expressed skepticism about the prosecution’s theory, he agreed Monday to let the jury decide.
“We are living in a real world of reality and common sense,” Walls said. “The jury will decide whose version of what happened or didn’t happen is more likely than not.”
Menendez’s lawyers will begin their defense and call their first witness Monday.
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