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Psychiatrist can't testify about Sen. Bob Menendez's habit of stockpiling cash, judge says

Jury selection underway in Bob Menendez trial
What to know about Sen. Menendez's corruption case as jury selection begins 04:56

A psychiatrist who evaluated New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez will not be allowed to testify at his corruption trial about "two significant traumatic events" in his life that his lawyers say explain the hundreds of thousands in cash investigators found in his home, a judge said Tuesday. 

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein barred testimony from the psychiatrist, Karen Rosenbaum, saying that some of her sworn statements would be "impermissibly based on inadmissible hearsay." 

Federal investigators found more than $480,000 in cash stashed in envelopes and coats, as well as 13 gold bars worth more than $100,000 when executing a search warrant at Menendez's New Jersey home in June 2022. They also discovered nearly $80,000 in his wife's safe deposit box at a nearby bank. 

After Menendez was initially charged in September, he said that he had withdrawn thousands of dollars each month from his personal savings account in case of emergencies. He carried on the "old-fashioned" habit for 30 years, which had roots in his family's experience in Cuba, he said. 

Sen. Robert Menendez is seated in front of his codefendants Wael Hana, left, and Fred Daibes, right, on May 14, 2024, at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in New York City.  Andrea Shepard

Rosenbaum could testify that Menendez "suffered intergenerational trauma stemming from his family's experience as refugees, who had their funds confiscated by the Cuban government and were left with only a small amount of cash that they had stashed away in their home," his attorneys said in a letter to prosecutors last month. 

The psychiatrist could also testify that he "experienced trauma when his father, a compulsive gambler, died by suicide after Senator Menendez eventually decided to discontinue paying off his father's gambling debts," they said. 

Menendez developed a mental condition, which was never treated, in response to the lifelong traumas, the letter said. As a result, Menendez has a "fear of scarcity" and developed "a longstanding coping mechanism of routinely withdrawing and storing cash in his home," his lawyers said. 

Menendez's condition was redacted in court filings. 

Prosecutors objected to the proposed testimony, questioning the scientific basis for Rosenbaum's conclusions and arguing it was an attempt to gain sympathy from the jury. Prosecutors requested to have Menendez examined by a separate psychiatrist if Rosenbaum was allowed to take the witness stand. 

The judge said he will allow testimony from a certified public accountant, Russell Richardson, who Menendez's lawyers said could provide context about the senator's spending habits and financial records. However, the accountant's testimony will be limited to whether the senator's cash outflows matched the inflows, Stein said, granting prosecutors' motion to preclude testimony about whether Menendez "lived within his means" and did not "regularly make extravagant purchases." 

"I find he is not qualified to say whether certain expenses were 'within Menendez's means,' 'extravagant,' or 'excessive.' I don't know what 'he lived within his means' means." Stein said. "Being a forensic accountant does not qualify him to say what's extravagant and what's not." 

The longtime lawmaker faces 16 felony counts in which he's accused of performing favors for three New Jersey businessmen, including interfering in criminal investigations and taking actions benefitting the governments of Egypt and Qatar, in exchange for gold, cash and a luxury car. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Jury selection began Monday in the senator's trial and could wrap up Wednesday morning. Opening statements would then begin in the afternoon. 

Stein has spent two days interviewing jurors who say they should be excused from Menendez's trial, which could stretch into July. 

Among the reasons potential jurors have given are health issues, work obligations, being the primary caregiver for a special needs child or elderly parents, travel and being unable to be impartial. 

"I personally just don't like him very much," one prospective juror told the judge. "He represents everything that I find repugnant about American politics and I don't think that I could be fair or impartial."

Another juror said she had read things about the case that concerned her "significantly." 

"I don't know that I can completely ignore those," she said. 

The judge listed dozens of potential witnesses in the case, which included more than a dozen current and former federal lawmakers. 

After his arrest last fall, Menendez was forced from his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but has defied calls from members of his own party to step down before the end of his term in January. 

After three terms in the Senate, he has announced he will not be seeking reelection on the Democratic ticket this fall, although he hasn't ruled out running as an independent.

"I am hopeful that my exoneration will take place this summer and allow me to pursue my candidacy as an independent Democrat in the general election," he said in March. 

Nathalie Nieves contributed reporting. 

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