Menendez Walks in Silence Through the Manafort Manifold

NEWARK – As news of indictments, investigations and appearances in federal court gripped the nation’s capital today, the one Washington figure who knows best what it feels like to be on the receiving end was silent on the matter.

Sen. Bob Menendez has, briefly and sometimes reluctantly, discussed national issues from immigration to Puerto Rican storm relief to the budget on his way into and out of the federal courthouse during the eight weeks of his corruption trial. He didn’t treat President Donald Trump with kid gloves during any of them. For reporters, it seemed the best way to get Menendez to clam up was to ask about his trial. Anything else was fair game.

So today, as the president’s former campaign manager was indicted and a campaign adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, what did Menendez have to say about it? Nothing. For once, he refused to talk about anything other than his trial, where his defense rested this afternoon.

“After eight weeks, 50 witnesses, and hundreds of documents, I and my lawyers believe that this jury is ready to render a just verdict,” Menendez said. “And I am confident that it will be not guilty.”

The senator did not address his decision not to testify in the case, and his attorney Abbe Lowell hinted in an unfinished sentence the reason was made clear in the courtroom.

The long, drawn-out trial to end the long, drawn-out investigation and indictment of the first sitting U.S. senator in a generation sputtered to a close Monday. Copying the prosecution’s use of FBI Agent Alan Mohl as both a witness-of-all-trades and sleeping pill, the defense used a law firm analyst as a “summary witness,” over prosecution objections.

Gabriel Klausner, who works for the law firm representing Melgen, produced charts of Menendez’s trips to the Dominican Republic going back to 1998, and a chart of political contributions from Melgen to Menendez back to 1993, when Menendez was still in Congress, up to his 2012 re-election to the Senate.

Klausner’s research showed Menendez often bought commercial tickets to fly down to the Dominican Republic. Prosecutor Amanda Vaughn pointed out that Melgen bought a private plane in 2003, but did not fly Menendez on the jet until 2006, after Menendez became a senator.

The only surprise that remained in the day came from the prosecution.

“Based on the state of the evidence, the prosecution will not be putting on a rebuttal case,” lead prosecutor Peter Koski said.

At least one day of contentious tedium remains for all sides on the Menendez trial. The attorneys and the judge will attempt to settle on jury charges starting tomorrow, an issue slated to take all day but which could take longer. That would mean closing arguments on Thursday, or perhaps Monday, as the attorneys want all the arguments to take place over the course of a single day.

It remains to be seen whether the defense will get into the official jury charge a line that circulated just before the trial opened, framing the senator’s explanation of the case: “Senators are people too, and they are allowed to have friends.”

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