Jury selection nearly done in Sen. Bob. Menendez’s gold bar bribery trial

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Jury selection continued for a second day Tuesday in the corruption trial of N.J. Sen.Bob Menendez, with the judge overseeing the gold bar bribery case saying he expects opening arguments to start Wednesday.

Manhattan Federal Court Judge Sidney Stein spent part of Tuesday afternoon hearing from dozens of jurors who said they had family members and friends in law enforcement jobs. Most, but not all, said they could still be impartial in the case.

The 70-year-old Democrat is accused of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Egypt as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and of abusing his position to advance Qatari interests in exchange for gold bullion bars, flashy watches and Formula 1 tickets. He denies the charges.

“We’re getting closer every time you see me,” Stein said Tuesday. He told the attorneys that he expects the jury to be selected by mid-morning Wednesday, with opening arguments later in the day.

Sen. Bob Menendez, center, sits with his defense team during jury selection, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, at Manhattan federal court in New York. Menendez, a Democrat, is accused of accepting bribes of gold and cash to use his influence to deliver favors that would help three New Jersey businessmen. (Candace E. Eaton via AP)
Sen. Bob Menendez, center, sits with his defense team during jury selection on Tuesday in Manhattan Federal Court.  (Candace E. Eaton via AP)

The trial is expected to last six or seven weeks.

N.J. businessmen Wael Hana and Fred Danies will stand trial alongside the veteran politician, while Menendez’s wife, Nadine, will face a separate trial in July.

Stein spent Monday and Tuesday winnowing down a pool of 150 prospective jurors, dismissing more than 70 of them. Many had a variety of personal obligations or medical concerns that would have prevented them from serving.

One said he suffered from an extreme fear of heights that would make him uncomfortable in the 23rd-floor courtroom.

More than 30 of the remaining jurors were questioned Tuesday on their jobs and occupational backgrounds, how they get their news and what they do in their spare time.

The majority of those questioned have a college education or better. One potential juror, a lawyer with a large bank, offered a surprising detail — he donated money to Menendez and several other campaigns through a political action committee. He said he could still be impartial.

Stein on Tuesday afternoon went though a list of several hundred names of people who might either be witnesses or otherwise mentioned in testimony — including David Axelrod, the chief strategist for former President Barack Obama, and several U.S. senators including Marsha Blackburn, Cory Booker, Christopher Coons, Lindsey Graham, Tim Kaine, Chris Murphy and Krysten Sinema.

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