(Bloomberg) -- Attorneys for U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen, moved for a mistrial in their bribery case, arguing that the judge excluded key witnesses and testimony central to their defense.
Kirk Ogrosky, an attorney for Melgen, voiced the defense’s intention after judge William Walls indicated he wouldn’t permit testimony from Marc Elias, a lawyer who defended Menendez in a related Senate ethics probe.
Menendez is on trial for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and luxury travel perks in exchange for intervening in business and personal disputes at the highest levels of the U.S. government on behalf of Florida eye doctor Melgen.
Menendez helped obtain visas for Melgen’s girlfriends, intervened in a business dispute with the Dominican Republic’s government and sought to resolve charges that the doctor had overcharged federal health programs by $8.9 million, the U.S. alleges. The two men have denied wrongdoing and say that the favors they exchanged were part of a close and long-standing friendship.
Melgen was separately convicted in the health-care dispute and awaits sentencing.
Before calling for a mistrial, defense attorneys told Walls that Elias’s testimony would show that Menendez’s staff had struggled to tally the number of flights Menendez had taken at Melgen’s expense, contradicting a government claim that the senator had hidden them as part of an alleged bribery conspiracy.
"Nothing’s better than to show it was not being concealed," Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Menendez, told the judge.
Walls wasn’t moved. "It’s nothing more than advocacy by a lawyer on behalf of a certain client," he said. While he was highly skeptical of the defense’s assertions, Walls said he would review written arguments before ruling on the mistrial motion.
Defense attorneys argued that Walls prohibited other witnesses and testimony from being heard by the jury too. Outside the courthouse after the trial had recessed for the day, Menendez said, "I am deeply disappointed that it came to the point that my lawyers had to make the motion that they made today. Their words stand for where we view things at this moment, but we will carry on."
Elias is connected to another major political story. As an attorney working on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, Elias retained Fusion GPS -- a political consulting firm that hired a former British intelligence official to compile evidence of ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia known as the Trump dossier.
Two U.S. senators, Lindsey Graham and Cory Booker, testified Thursday to offer support for Menendez. Neither senators’ names have come up previously during the trial.
Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said he’s known Menendez since they served in the House of Representatives two decades ago and spent hours working with his Democratic colleague to draft legislation. Graham praised Menendez’s work on immigration, which he described as particularly contentious and emotionally fraught.
“I’m here because I know him,” Graham said of his New Jersey colleague, in a notable show of bipartisanship. “In difficult circumstances all you need is his handshake. He’s an honest, hardworking senator.”
Booker, a Democrat and Menendez’s junior partner in representing New Jersey in the Senate, said he has known Menendez since he served as a Newark city councilman. Like Graham, he offered effusive praise for Menendez in brief testimony.
“I’ve been told the bad thing about politics is you have to deal with politicians. I have not found that to be true with Bob Menendez,” Booker said, during testimony in which his voice filled with emotion. “I found him profoundly honorable, trustworthy and direct.”
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