Politics

Judge Declares Mistrial in Menendez Case

Jurors said they were deadlocked on all counts

Sen. Robert Menendez has occasionally been at the Capitol while on trial in New Jersey. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A federal judge is declaring a mistrial in the federal corruption case against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, after a New Jersey jury was declared hopelessly deadlocked on all counts.

That’s according to a defense attorney, who informed reporters at the courthouse.

Speaking to reporters in Newark, Menendez thanked his supporters and pledged to do more to win back trust of the people of the Garden State.

“To those who left me, who abandoned me in my darkest moment, I forgive you,” Menendez said. “To those who embraced me in my darkest moment, I love you. To those New Jerseyeans who gave me the benefit of the doubt, I thank you. To those who have a doubt, I’m going to work harder than ever before, so that there is no doubt.”

But the New Jersey Democrat also had sharp words — and perhaps a threat — for his political adversaries.

“To those who were digging my political grave so that they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you,” Menendez said.

Walter Shaub, former head of the Office of Government Ethics who is now at the Campaign Legal Center, tweeted Thursday that those remarks had “a sleep-with-the-fishes ring to it when uttered by a guy whose corruption case ended in a mistrial. I hope they try him again.”

The mistrial leaves prosecutors to explore their options over Thanksgiving, and brings an uneasy conclusion to a trial that went on weeks longer than anticipated.

According to reporters present in Newark, Senior Judge William H. Walls interviewed jurors individually before announcing his decision to put an end to the deliberations.

Menendez had faced 18 counts of charges relating to public corruption, including honest services fraud, after allegedly accepting bribes in the forms of gifts from South Florida opthamologist Dr. Salomon Melgen. Melgen was also tried in the case.

All told, prosecutors alleged that more than $700,000 in campaign contributions, as well as other personal presents like vacations and flights on Melgen’s private jet, were part of a scheme to get the senator to provide inappropriate favors and assistance to Melgen, including help with the Department of Health and Human Services over Medicare billing issues.

A separate jury in Florida convicted Melgen on 67 counts related to his Medicare scheme earlier this year. He already faced 15 to 20 years in prison on those convictions.

The assumption going in had been that the final count against Menendez, relating to his failure to report certain gifts received from Melgen, would be the easiest to prove, and the presiding judge had seemed to entertain the idea of sending only that count to the jury.

Walls ultimately sent the whole case to jurors, but they proved unable to reach a unanimous verdict on even that count.

Menendez did not testify on his own behalf, but he did have two of his colleagues come before the jury as character witnesses. Fellow New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker offered testimony, as did South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Menendez’s lawyers argued throughout the trial that he did not take bribes, and he did nothing particularly untoward for a member of Congress in setting up meetings with executive departments and agencies, as well as other senators, in response to concerns.

Correction 2:25 | An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Melgen was convicted in New Jersey. 

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