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Judge scolds lawyers over ‘gamesmanship’

Sen. Robert Menendez arrives at the federal courthouse in Manhattan, New York City, May 13, 2024.

Fatih Aktas | Anadolu | Getty Images

A judge on Monday admonished attorneys about playing legal games shortly after they convened for the start of the federal bribery trial of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

“There’s been too much gamesmanship here,” Judge Sidney Stein told prosecutors and defense attorneys before jury selection began for the trial in federal court in Manhattan.

“Everybody has to operate in good faith here,” Stein said, adding, “I’m not sure I’ve seen that.”

Menendez, 70, wearing a dark suit and striped red tie with his gold senator’s pin on his lapel, listened silently in the courtroom.

Two of his co-defendants, New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, sat behind him. Jose Uribe, a third businessman who was charged in the case, pleaded guilty March 1 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The judge’s stern words shut down an exchange about some evidence that could be used in the trial of the once-powerful senator, who is accused of accepting cash, gold bars and other gifts in exchange for official acts.

Prosecutors allege Menendez took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from New Jersey businessmen to benefit them and the countries of Egypt and Qatar.

Menendez was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but stepped down from that role following his indictment in September 2023.

He has pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts, including bribery, wire fraud, extortion, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice.

His wife, Nadine Menendez, is also charged in the corruption case, but her trial was severed from her husband’s due to what her lawyers said were medical issues. Her trial is delayed at least until July; she was not in court with her husband Monday morning.

Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York told Stein that they expect to lay out their case in 4½ to 6½ weeks.

The trial itself could last around six to seven weeks, Stein told dozens of prospective jurors before giving them a rough outline of the 18-count indictment against Menendez and his co-defendants.

The senator’s federal trial kicked off just a few blocks from Manhattan Supreme Court, where former President Donald Trump is on trial on charges related to a scheme to silence porn star Stormy Daniels with hush money before the 2016 election.

This is developing news. Please check back for updates.

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