FBI agents testify about surveilling Sen. Menendez’s dinner at Washington steakhouse he frequented

Steaks, cigars, booze, diplomats and pals – they were all on the menu at Sen. Bob Menendez’s frequent dinners at Morton’s The Steakhouse in Washington DC, according to two FBI investigators who testified Tuesday in the New Jersey Democrat’s federal corruption trial.

FBI investigative specialist Terry Williams Thompson, who eavesdropped on one of the meals on May 21, 2019, told the court she heard a woman ask another unidentified diner, “What else can the love of my life do for you?”

While it wasn’t immediately clear to whom the question was directed, the implication was clear: Nadine Menendez, the senator’s wife, was the person asking. Throughout the trial, she has been heard over voicemail and seen in text messages addressing her husband with similar language.

Bob and Nadine Menendez, along with New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, are accused of engaging in a bribery scheme and acting as foreign agents for the Egyptian government. All four have pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez will be tried separately this summer.

The trial in New York federal court is in its fourth week, and prosecutors have started to piece together different threads of the complex bribery scheme they’ve alleged. The testimony about FBI surveillance adds another dimension to the prosecution’s case, which also includes gold bars seized from the Menendez home, Nadine Menendez’s text messages and other testimony.

As he left court Tuesday, Bob Menendez told CNN in an interview that he feels confident his defense attorneys are “showing the truth” by discrediting prosecution witnesses through cross-examination.

A ‘friendly’ dinner

Before the jury was seated Tuesday, Adam Fee, one of Bob Menendez’s attorneys, argued that prosecutors were unfairly attempting to paint the May 2019 dinner as something malign – as co-conspirators plotting their crimes. According to Fee, the senator was a regular at the steakhouse, going there 250 nights out of the year.

“There is nothing unusual about having dinner there with a diplomat or with a friend,” Fee told Judge Sidney Stein.

Prosecutors, in turn, argued that just because the senator had other dinners that were not conspiratorial or criminal in nature, doesn’t mean that some didn’t fit that bill.

Patrons dine at Morton's The Steakhouse in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 2009. - Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg/Getty Images/File
Patrons dine at Morton's The Steakhouse in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 2009. - Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg/Getty Images/File

There were several FBI teams at Morton’s that night who were looking out for other subjects at dinner with the senator.

The government’s first witness on Tuesday, Chase Hunter Mills, now an FBI special agent, testified that he saw two men and one woman, with blonde hair and wearing a tan fur overcoat, enter Morton’s steakhouse on the night in question.

“The proximity and the body language would lead me to believe they were friendly together,” he said.

Late Tuesday night, the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York released video and still pictures documenting the Morton’s steakhouse dinner that were presented as evidence earlier in the day.

The photos showed Bob and Nadine Menendez and alleged co-conspirator Hana seated at the table the FBI team was asked to observe.

Thompson testified earlier that she was working with her partner, Damian Bradland, to surveil an individual from New York who would be in Washington that night.

They developed a cover story as a married couple out on a dinner date.

“It looked natural,” Thompson said. “Because Morton’s is a high-end restaurant, we made sure we dressed the part.”

Thompson told the court they found the senator and others dining in the restaurant’s patio area, where there were only a few people being served. The investigators got themselves a table “two arm’s length away,” she said, from the group they were observing.

At the dinner table, Thompson observed the senator pour a bottle of wine, and there were also cigarettes and cigars, she testified.

“They appeared to be getting along just fine,” she said. “Based on the laughter and what we heard, it made me think they were getting along.”

“We dined just like them,” Thompson said. Bradland took photos of her with the subjects’ table in the background, using their married couple cover to instead document their surveillance.

They took no audio surveillance, however, and she jotted notes down to remember what they heard, although not a direct transcript, she testified.

Asked by Fee if they observed anything that suggested the subjects of the surveillance were trying to avoid being photographed or observed, both Mills and Thompson said they did not.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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