October 30, 2017 / 7:37 PM / a year ago

Defense rests in Democratic Senator Menendez's bribery trial

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The defense in Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s federal corruption trial rested on Monday, court records showed, as a case that could have political repercussions in Washington nears an end after eight weeks of testimony.

FILE PHOTO: Senator Bob Menendez speaks to journalists after arriving to face trial for federal corruption charges as his daughter Alicia Menendez looks on outside United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File Photo

As expected, Menendez and his co-defendant, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, declined to take the witness stand in their defense. Closing arguments were set to begin no earlier than Wednesday morning.

Menendez, 63, is accused of accepting bribes from Melgen, including luxury vacations, private flights and campaign contributions, in exchange for using his political influence to help Melgen in a variety of ways.

Lawyers for Menendez and Melgen have told the jury in Newark, New Jersey, that they did nothing wrong and that their actions stemmed from a close, brother-like relationship.

The case could have an outsized effect on Capitol Hill, where Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 edge in the Senate. If Menendez is convicted and either resigns or is expelled before Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s term expires in January, the governor would presumably name a Republican to replace him.

The Democratic candidate to succeed Christie, Phil Murphy, holds a comfortable lead in polls ahead of the state’s gubernatorial election on Nov. 7.

A Republican effort to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law failed by a single vote in the Senate in July, and the party’s pursuit of tax reform is expected to be similarly hard-fought.

Defense attorneys ended their case on Monday soon after the judge overseeing the trial, William Walls, denied their request to declare a mistrial. The lawyers had argued that Walls unfairly limited the witnesses and evidence they could present to jurors.

Menendez intervened with Medicare officials on Melgen’s behalf after the agency determined the doctor had overbilled it by millions of dollars, according to prosecutors. Melgen was convicted separately earlier this year in Florida of Medicare fraud, though the New Jersey jury has not heard about that case.

In addition, the senator pressed U.S. officials to resolve a port dispute in the Dominican Republic involving one of Melgen’s business ventures and to issue visas for several of Melgen’s foreign girlfriends, prosecutors say.

Among the witnesses who appeared for the defense were two of Menendez’s colleagues: Republican U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham and Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker, who is New Jersey’s other senator. Both men testified about Menendez’s good character without reference to the current charges.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Frances Kerry

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