Sen. Bob Menendez's lawyer cites patriotism as a reason to acquit his client

NEW YORK (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez's lawyer cited patriotism as a reason to acquit his client Wednesday, telling a federal jury that it would be a “win for this country” if it rejects the government’s bribery case against the Democrat.

“This case, it dies here today,” attorney Adam Fee told the Manhattan federal court jury as it heard closing arguments for a third day.

When Fee finished his closing, Menendez shook his hand. As Menendez left the courthouse, the senator told reporters: “We have stripped away the government’s false narratives and exposed their lies.”

Fee said the government had failed to prove “that Bob’s actions were anything other than what we want our elected officials to do.”

“He was doing his job. He was doing it well,” Fee added.

The attorney warned jurors to resist the temptation to embrace the government's “salacious story about a corrupt politician, because it's not there.”

Then, as he finished his argument, he made an acquittal sound patriotic, telling the jury “the United States wins when thin cases brought by overzealous prosecutors are rejected.”

“That,” Fee added, “will be a win for this country.”

Menendez, 70, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he accepted gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from 2018 to 2022 from three New Jersey businessmen and agreed to take official actions that would benefit their interests, including financially.

The New Jersey senator is on trial with two businessmen, Fred Daibes and Wael Hana, who also have pleaded not guilty. Daibes is a prominent New Jersey real estate developer while Hana obtained a monopoly to certify that meat exported to Egypt complied with Islamic rules.

A third businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty and testified against the others during the trial. A trial for the senator's wife, Nadine Menendez, 57, has been postponed while she recovers from breast cancer surgery. She also has pleaded not guilty in the bribery case.

The jury was expected to begin deliberations sometime Thursday after the judge instructs them on the law following closing arguments.

Lawyers for Daibes and Hana also told the jury that the government could not prove its case.

“The government has it wrong. It has not proven its case,” said attorney Lawrence Lustberg, Hana's lawyer.

Closing arguments began Monday, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni told jurors that, when they review evidence, they will see that Dabies and Hana were directly responsible for gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash found in a 2022 FBI raid of the Menendez's Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, residence.

The prosecutor said Daibes' fingerprints “were all over the tape sealing up” envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars of cash that were found in cardboard boxes, a safe, boots and jackets in the home. Menendez's fingerprints sometimes were found on the envelopes too, he added.

He told jurors they will be able to match serial numbers on the gold bars to show that Hana gave seven 1-ounce gold bars found in the home, while Daibes contributed nine 1-ounce bars, along with four 1-kilogram gold bars.

“Why did Daibes and Hana shower Menendez and his wife with these valuables?” Monteleoni asked. "What were they getting when they parted with hundreds of thousands of dollars of gold, cash and other payments? The promise of power.

“Robert Menendez, the senior U.S. senator from the state of New Jersey, the ranking member and then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put his power up for sale,” he said.

In return, prosecutors say, Hana received support and protection for his monopoly on the certification of meat exports to Egypt while Daibes received help in his business interests and efforts by the senator to disrupt a federal criminal prosecution against him by recommending a longtime friend as U.S. attorney after the election of President Joe Biden.