NEWARK – Sen. Bob Menendez’s defense used cross-examination of an FBI agent this afternoon to strike back at what they said earlier was a prosecution strategy that lashed together a timeline of corruption based on selective reading of emails.
During rapid-fire cross-examination of FBI Agent Alan Mohl, Menendez’s attorney Abbe Lowell pointed out that in his direct testimony Mohl frequently presumed what people in Menendez’s orbit were thinking or doing when they wrote the emails, and did not know for sure. Judge William Walls even jumped into the action, cutting Mohl off when he began his answer to a question with the word “presumably.”
“I can just tell you what the email says,” Mohl said several times.
After one exchange, Mohl admitted he was using assumptions to form his answers.
“I thought you were asking for my interpretation,” Mohl said after one exchange.
“No, no I was asking if you knew,” said Lowell, emphasizing the last word in the sentence.
Jurors spent about as much time out of the courtroom as in their seats today due to extended objections over often minute issues. Lead government prosecutor Peter Koski planned to show jurors a screenshot of Menendez’s Senate web page and an interview Menendez’s co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen did with Bloomberg, but Walls sustained defense objections and shot down Koski’s plans.
The government wanted to use the screenshot of the Frequently Asked Questions on Menendez’s website, which says queries from people who don’t live in New Jersey will be referred to their state’s senator, but Koski didn’t know what day the screenshot was taken. Likewise, the government incorrectly stated Melgen’s interview was with the news organization Voxxi, while instead Voxxi reposted the Bloomberg article.
“We’ve got hearsay on top of hearsay,” Walls said.
As usual, Wells proved to be the most entertaining feature of today’s testimony, at one objection telling attorneys to “take me through the maze” as a prod to begin their argument.
“My problem is you want to have your cake and eat it too,” he said to Lowell at one point, “which is a song Fats Waller made famous many years ago.”
Waller was a masterful jazz pianist who died in 1943.
After a morning where an email showed Menendez seeking someone with “the best juice” in the Health Department to help Melgen with his Medicare billing dispute, there were few surprises among the emails presented later in the day.
Prosecutors showed a Nov. 1, 2012 email chain where Menendez and his staff weighed how to respond to a Washington Post story about the senator’s advocacy for Melgen. In one of the emails, Menendez claimed to be unaware Melgen had paid back Medicare until he read a quote from Melgen’s lobbyist in the article. Menendez chief of staff Danny O’Brien suggested the senator release a statement registering “some surprise and disdain for anybody who would try to use your relationship for some end.”
“Yes, of course,” Menendez wrote.
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