Accusing the Justice Department of having a “fixation on sex and salacious headlines,” lawyers for Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and his wealthy donor reiterated their call for a court to dismiss bribery and fraud charges against them.
The defense teams took aim at a contention by prosecutors and FBI agents that they had uncovered some “corroboration” for claims the men may have consorted with prostitutes at luxury homes in the Dominican Republic.
“No witness or document, throughout [this] entire investigation, has ever accused Senator Menendez of being in the presence of a prostitute, much less engaged in relations with one,” wrote attorneys Abbe D. Lowell and Kirk Ogrosky.
Defense lawyers added that the FBI had mischaracterized as a “prostitution ledger” a black notebook it found at the office of the donor, Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor based in Florida. Melgen’s lawyers say the notebook was filled with innocent material. And they add that the FBI mistook jottings about “Dixi” to mean a prostitute, when it was instead the name of a sanitation company in the Dominican Republic.
“It remains absurd to believe someone would solicit prostitutes using a 168-page handwritten notebook listing family, friends, business contacts and religious prayers,” they wrote.
The court filings by the defense team foreshadow what could be a heated argument next week in a federal courthouse in New Jersey. Lawyers for Menendez and Melgen have accused the government of “serious misconduct” including media leaks, a preoccupation with the defendants’ sex lives and misstating facts to the grand jury that indicted the men.
Last month, public integrity prosecutors at the Justice Department said it was the defendants who were twisting the facts. Lawyer Peter Koski said authorities had conducted “an exhaustive, focused and disciplined investigation” that produced a 22-count criminal indictment against the long-serving senator from New Jersey and his wealthy friend of about two decades. The indictment said Melgen paid for travel and housing for Menendez in exchange for a series of favors from the lawmaker.
U.S. District Judge William Walls has already refused defense requests to move the trial out of New Jersey. On Sept. 17, he’ll hear both sides argue a series of incendiary motions about critical pieces of evidence and the way authorities gathered information and presented it to grand jurors.
The case is scheduled for trial in November, but either side may seek to appeal, perhaps delaying the trial into an election year, once Walls rules on a critical issue in the case: whether Menendez is charged with crimes, in part, for actions he took in the course of his public service, protected under the Constitution’s “speech or debate clause.”
Randall Eliason, a former prosecutor who now teaches at George Washington Law School, said in a blog post this week the case is “shaping up as a clash that will have all the quiet gentility of a New Jersey mob war.”