Judge rejects Sen. Menendez's claims that legislative immunity protects him from bribery charges


NEW YORK (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez cannot escape federal prosecution on grounds that he has legislative immunity from four conspiracy charges alleging that he accepted bribes including cash and gold bars in exchange for delivering favors to three New Jersey businessmen, a judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein in Manhattan said in a written ruling that charges alleging the New Jersey Democrat accepted bribes from three businessmen in return for legislative favors cannot be dropped on grounds that members of Congress get extra protection from some laws for what they do in the legislative sphere.

He said criminal intent cannot be protected by wording in the Constitution meant to protect information sharing by legislators.

“The fact that this information sharing is part of a corrupt scheme prevents a characterization of those discussions as legislative acts,” he wrote.

Stein said the 2nd U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Manhattan has made clear in previous cases that “even activity that might otherwise sit comfortably within the heartland of the Speech or Debate Clause — speech on the House floor — is denied protection from the Clause when the speech in not made ‘in the course of the legislative process,’ but rather functions as a ‘whispered solicitation to commit a crime.’”

The judge also rejected Menendez’s claim that one charge violates the separation of powers doctrine governing branches of government.

Menendez pleaded not guilty earlier this week to the latest indictment including the four charges and other charges contained in subsequent rewrites of the charging document. He has said prosecutors were trying to “pile on” charges against him, but he is innocent and will prove it. His lawyers did not immediately comment Thursday.

A May trial has been set, although lawyers have indicated that any appeal of the new ruling might require the trial date to be postponed for months.

Menendez, 70, held a powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he was forced to relinquish it after he was arrested last fall. He has refused calls for him to resign from Congress.

Menendez was charged, along with his wife and the three businessmen, though one businessman recently pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against his codefendants at trial. The others have pleaded not guilty.

Among other allegations, the indictment accuses Menendez of helping one man get a lucrative meat-certification deal with Egypt while taking actions favorable to the Egyptian government and helping another associate get a deal with a Qatari investment fund.



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