Senator Bob Menendez on trial for bribery

Reporting by David Lee Miller

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, on trial from bribery, was on the verge of tears as he proclaimed his innocence outside a federal court in Newark today.

“I appreciate my family, my son and daughter, for being here today and appreciate all my supporters.”

Menendez faces a dozen criminal charges. He is accused of accepting more than $700,000 in campaign related cash and thousands of dollars in free hotel rooms and air travel from a longtime friend, Dr. Solomon Melgen.

During opening statements the prosecution told the jury that as part of the bribery scheme Menendez sent the doctor an email asking him to provide a $1,500 a night Paris hotel room with a limestone bath and a view of the courtyard.

Prosecutors say Menendez in exchange helped the doctor in multi-million dollar business deals and allegedly tried to get visas for the doctors foreign girlfriends.

Both Melgen, who has a previous conviction for Medicare fraud, and Menendez are on trial, but there is more at stake. The trial could change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

The judge rejected a motion by Menendez to change the trial schedule to allow him to attend crucial votes such as healthcare.

In a testy exchange today, Menendez’s attorney accused the judge of disparaging the defense in his written opinion. At one point the judge told Menendez’s lawyer “shut up for a moment, if you don’t mind.”

Menendez says he will exercise his constitutional right to attend trial, but acknowledged the conflict he faces if Democrats need his vote in the senate.

“When conflict exists, the clash between those constitutional rights, I will make a decision based upon the gravity of the situation and the difference that my vote would make.”

During his opening statement Menendez‘s lawyer told jurors “a single word can cut through a mountain of evidence.” That word—friendship. The defense says this isn’t a case of bribery, just one friend helping another out.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.