U.S. District Judge William Walls and a defense attorney representing New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez traded accusations in the courtroom during the corruption trial’s first hearing Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
Walls repeatedly interrupted the defense attorney as he accused the judge of disparaging Menendez, and derided his refusal to postpone hearings to allow Menendez to participate in Senate votes, the AP reported. Walls also criticized the defense for filing a motion to alter jury instructions. Menendez faces bribery charges for allegedly lobbying on behalf of a friend and long-time donor in exchange for monetary gifts and vacations to Europe and the Caribbean.
Defense attorneys claimed they only filed the jury motion in accordance with a December order from Walls himself, to which the judge responded, “Fine. Bill me.”
Menendez stands trial alongside his friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who was convicted in April of stealing $105 million through Medicare fraud between 2008 and 2013. Records show the senator accepted several campaign donations from Melgen, including vacations to Paris and the Dominican Republic. (RELATED: NYT Writes 1300 Words About Dem Senator’s Corruption Trial Without Mentioning He’s A Democrat)
Prosecutors allege that Menendez repeatedly met with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and acting Medicare administrator Marilyn Tavenner to intercede on Melgen’s behalf in Medicare disputes.
If the corruption trial ends in a conviction and Menendez is forced out of office before January, GOP Gov. Chris Christie would be responsible for picking his successor. A Republican pick from Christie would loosen the deadlocked Senate in favor of Republicans, creating new hope for Obamacare repeal.
Republicans in the Senate were just one vote away from passing Obamacare repeal in July. But Christie leaves office Jan. 16, so the jury will need to hand down a conviction before then if Senate Republicans hope to secure the potential 53-47 majority.
Both Menendez and Melgen have pleaded not guilty.
“Not once have I dishonored my public office,” Menendez claimed as he entered the courthouse.
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