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Prosecutors in Bob Menendez trial can't use evidence they say is critical to case, judge rules

Breaking down the charges facing Bob Menendez
Breaking down the charges against Sen. Bob Menendez 02:49

Washington — Prosecutors trying to prove that New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez wielded his political influence in exchange for bribes cannot show jurors evidence that they argue is "critical" to their case, a federal judge ruled Friday. 

U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein said prosecutors could not use text messages from 2019 that allegedly show Menendez, who was the top Democrat on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, assuring Egypt and the New Jersey businessmen who are alleged to have bribed him that he was not delaying military aid to the country after Egypt heard he had put a hold on it. 

The jury also cannot see another text from 2022 in which the senator's wife, Nadine, allegedly told one of the businessmen that "Bob had to sign off on this." The text included a link about two pending foreign military sales to Egypt, according to prosecutors. 

Prosecutors argued last week that Egypt was "frantic about not getting their money's worth," which is why it contacted Menendez through two of the New Jersey businessmen, who allegedly gave the senator cash, gold bars, and other things of value. The text involving Menendez's wife signaled, "You keep the bribes flowing, and he is going to keep giving you what you want on the military aid," prosecutor Paul Monteleoni told Stein before the decision. 

But Stein determined the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause, which protects lawmakers against prosecution over official legislative acts, applied to the evidence. 

"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 Tuesday, before making his decision official in an order later in the week. 

Such an interpretation would prohibit "some of the core most critical evidence," Monteleoni countered. 

While the decision could complicate prosecutors' case against Menendez as it relates to Egypt and military aid, the senator is also facing a slew of other charges

The corruption trial entered its third week Tuesday and could last until early July. Jurors have heard from a handful of witnesses, including an FBI agent who led the search of the senator's New Jersey home in June 2022, an agricultural attaché who questioned Egypt awarding a halal certification monopoly to one of the New Jersey businessmen, and a lawyer who worked for the halal company and testified about a $23,568.54 payment made to a lender of Menendez's wife to save their home from foreclosure. 

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