Senator Bob Menendez
Bob Menendez Reuters

The judge overseeing the bribery case against embattled Senator Bob Menendez determined prosecutors can't show evidence they consider "crucial" to proving their case: alleged texts from 2019 when Menendez, then the top Democrat in the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, passing on key information to Egyptian officials and New Jersey businessmen accused of bribing him in exchange for benefitting from his political influence.

U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein also prevented prosecutors from showing a text from 2022 in which Menendez's wife, Nadine, allegedly telling one of the businessmen that "Bob had to sign off on this," in reference to pending foreign military sales to Egypt.

According to a CBS News recap of the trial, prosecutors said that Egyptian officials, "frantic about not getting their money's worth," contacted Menendez through two businessmen, kicking off the bribery scheme. The text, they say, intended to convey a message: "you keep the bribes flowing and he is going to keep giving you what you want on the military aid."

Stein justified her decision on the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause, protecting lawmakers against prosecution over official legislative acts. "The core legislative act is clearly the hold or releasing the hold. I don't think it matters that there was mistaken information here," Stein said before making the decision.

The trial could last until early July and has already seen a slew of damning allegations against the senator, including pictures of cash stuffed into boots and in jackets with his name embroidered and over a dozen gold bars.

Bob Menendez
Cash found in a jacket with Menendez's name embroidered FBI

The FBI said that there was close to half a million dollars in Menendez's house, where he lives with his wife Nadine, also charged in the case. Both have pleaded not guilty, and Nadine will have a separate trial set to begin after her husband's due to a breast cancer diagnosis.

One of the most salient photos show $4,300 in cash that prosecutors said were found inside the senator's Congressional Hispanic Caucus jacket. Many of the places where cash was found, either envelopes or clothing, had Menendez's name on them. That could help the prosecutor's case, as the senator has said he was unaware of any illegal actions and pinned most of the blame on his wife.

Prosecutors also included several photos of gold bars. Two of them, prosecutors said, weighed one kilogram each, the others weighing an ounce each. Menendez's lawyer Avi Weitzman said the senator didn't know his wife had gold bars and that he didn't have access to the closet in which they were kept. He shouldn't be blamed for the actions of the person he was living with, he said.

As for the cash, he said, he withdrew thousands of dollars each month over the years to have them at hand in case of emergencies. This, he added, has to do with traumatic experiences from his family in Cuba and his father's compulsive gambling habit.

Menendez faced numerous calls to resign but has refused to do so, accepting to step down from committee assignments. Instead, he announced that he won't seek reelection as a Democrat and will do as an independent if cleared of his charges by the summer.

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