Sen. Robert Menendez is again accusing federal prosecutors of misleading the grand jury that voted to indict bribery charges against him.
In another round of court filings, attorneys for New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator also asked a judge to throw out the case because, they claim, leaks to the press tainted the entire process.
Menendez has maintained he has had a long friendship with Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen and that his acceptance of free private jet trips never influenced him. Even if it did, his lawyers said it was not a crime.
"Defendant’s repeatedly quoted the Supreme Court’s language that using gifts to ‘influence’ a legislator … is not a crime," Menendez’s court filing stated.
Defense attorneys also attacked prosecutors for repeating "scandalous allegations" about child prostitution in their court papers, even though they said those allegations against the senator "proved baseless" and were part of an initial smear campaign by an anonymous tipster.
Two weeks ago, prosecutors filed their own set of papers saying they have "clear evidence" of a bribe scheme between Menendez and Melgen.
But Menendez argues grand jurors were never asked in advance if they had heard about the unsubstantiated child sex allegations and whether those inflammatory allegations would have affected any decision to indict on the separate bribery questions. That failure to ensure grand jury impartiality is one key argument the senator is making for dismissal.
Prosecutors said this grand jury was handled like any other.
Prosecutors in an earlier court filing said they had a duty to investigate allegations of child sex abuse. But Menendez lawyers blasted the Justice Department’s use of inflammatory language in their court brief, which included the claim that initial reports about use of prostitutes appeared to be "specific" and "corroborated."
Defense lawyers said since the entire investigation started based on an unfair "smear," the case needs to be thrown out.
Judge William Walls is expected hear more arguments next week.
Prosecutors have alleged Menendez accepted gifts, free vacations and campaign cash from Melgen, and that in exchange, Menendez used his office to try to help Melgen with officials handling a Medicare fraud investigation, as well as Melgen’s efforts to secure a port security deal worth tens of millions of dollars.
Melgen and Menendez have pleaded not guilty to the bribery-related counts. Melgen has been charged separately in Florida on Medicare fraud counts.