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Prosecutors unveil cache of Menendez texts in bribery trial: "It is extremely important that we keep Nadine happy"

Sen. Bob Menendez trial continues with 2018 texts shown
Sen. Bob Menendez trial continues with 2018 texts shown 02:22

Washington — Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey was on the cusp of turning 64 when Nadine Arslanian, who would later become his wife and be indicted alongside him in a federal bribery case, asked to take him to lunch for his birthday. 

"Would love to get together but as I said once before I don't want to interfere with your boyfriend," the Democratic senator texted her back on Dec. 31, 2017. 

A month later, on the day the Justice Department dismissed the remaining charges against him in a separate corruption case, she wrote him, "Now re-election!!!!" 

The two made plans for dinner at a New Jersey restaurant. After the date, she thanked him "for a great night." He wrote back, "Enjoyed your company. We'll have to do it again!" 

Soon after, she was asking him about his "international position" — he told her he was the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — and setting up meetings between the senator and Egyptian officials. 

"I have a favor to ask you, hopefully you can do it," she said in a voicemail about a potential meeting with an Egyptian official at the country's embassy so that "we don't need an explanation to Egypt as to why he's meeting an official not at the embassy." 

She said the meeting "would be good for the relationship between Egypt and the United States, among other things." 

The messages were part of dozens of communications that prosecutors showed jurors this week through the testimony of an FBI agent, laying out the beginning of the relationship that they say coincided with a years-long bribery scheme. 

The couple is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including gold bars, cash, a Mercedes convertible and mortgage payments. In exchange, the senator allegedly used his political influence to enrich and protect three New Jersey businessmen. He is also accused of acting as a foreign agent for Egypt. 

Menendez is being tried with two New Jersey businessmen, Wael Hana and Fred Daibes. All three have pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez, whose trial was postponed as she undergoes treatment for breast cancer, has also pleaded not guilty. 

Menendez's lawyers have said he did not have a key to her locked closet where investigators discovered envelopes of cash and gold bars, and instead it was Nadine Menendez who had access. The senator was unaware that his girlfriend-turned-wife had financial challenges and they lived separate lives, according to his lawyers. 

But the two often referred to each other as "mon amour," meaning "my love" in French, and shared their locations with each other via the "Find My Friends" iPhone app, according to cache of the text messages. 

Months after the the senator's girlfriend left the first voicemail seeking a favor, a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer who worked for Menendez asked a colleague how many Americans were posted to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. 

"Don't ask why I'm asking…" the staffer said. 

"I would have to ask and then someone is going to ask why," the colleague responded. 

"Menendez is asking," the staffer said. 

The senator texted his girlfriend a day later with the number of Americans and Egyptians working at the embassy. She relayed that information to Hana, who sent it to an employee for the Egyptian government. Prosecutors have argued the information was sensitive, though not classified, and put embassy employees at risk. Menendez's attorneys have protested the sensitivity of the information, saying it was contained in public government audits. 

Text messages and call logs showed Nadine Menendez as the intermediary between the senator, New Jersey businessmen and Egyptian officials. When one had a request of the senator, they went through her and the messages were quickly relayed back and forth to each party. 

The requests included drafting a letter on behalf of the Egyptian government seeking the release of $300 million in aid and including a specific mention of Egypt and the International Monetary Fund in a speech. 

"In your speech, could you please say: Egypt now in the right direction with the new government now. With the International Monetary Fund. And all the new developments, new Capital and the new Suez Canal," Nadine Menendez wrote to the senator in October 2018. "Egypt is important to the United States." 

"Really???" he wrote back two minutes later. 

She told him that Hana said it was "important" to speak about the IMF. 

The next year, Egypt would award Hana's halal certification startup a lucrative monopoly, a decision that was protested by the U.S. government. According to prosecutors, the monopoly gave Hana the funds to pay the bribes he had promised to the couple. 

The text messages also show Nadine Menendez repeatedly venting to the senator and others about Hana when he failed to pay her and as she was in danger of losing her home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, after falling behind on mortgage payments. 

"It has been a year of broken promises by Will to me and I have given 1000% of my myself, my time and kept every promise to Will," she wrote to an attorney for Hana's company, referring to the businessman by a nickname. "Very honestly I felt repeatedly used." 

The attorney reached out to another man, telling him that "it's really important that we make sure Nadine stays happy because if she's not she's going to cancel the meetings that Wael has set up with Senator Menendez for Monday and Tuesday and we should not let that happen." 

In texts to the senator, she called Hana a "lying a** hole." 

Hana eventually provided more than $23,000 to save her home from foreclosure in 2019, but their relationship, which Hana's lawyers have described as a brother-sister bond, continued to have its ups and downs over the years. 

"I am not going to get angry or get any more upset, but one day I really would love to know one of the pyramids collapsed and he is trapped forever," Nadine Menendez texted her husband in September 2021. 

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