Criminal Justice

Judge acquits Sen. Menendez and co-defendant on several counts before retrial

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Robert Menendez

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. lev radin /

A federal judge in New Jersey has acquitted U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and a co-defendant on seven out of 18 counts in advance of their retrial on political corruption charges.

U.S. District Judge William Walls partially acquitted the New Jersey Democrat and his co-defendant, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, less than a week after the Justice Department announced it would retry the pair, report Politico and the Wall Street Journal.

Walls had declared a mistrial in the case in November after jurors could not reach a unanimous decision. Prosecutors had claimed that Menendez accepted gifts from Melgen and in return pressured officials to help Melgen get visas for foreign girlfriends, resolve a Medicare dispute and obtain a port security contract.

In his Jan. 24 opinion, Walls tossed six bribery counts and one wire fraud count alleging Melgen made campaign contributions in exchange for official acts by Menendez. There is no evidence that the contributions were made in return for a specific promise by Menendez, Walls said.

“First Amendment values are implicated when the thing of value is a political contribution,” Walls said. “A close temporal relationship between political contributions and favorable official action, without more, is not sufficient to prove the existence of an explicit quid pro quo.”

Walls said the lack of quid pro quo evidence evoked Gertrude Stein’s observation that “There is no there there.”

Wall granted acquittal on three counts against Menendez, three counts against Melgen, and one joint count against both men. That leaves eight counts remaining against Menendez and seven against Melgen. The October 2016 superseding indictment is here.

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