Mistrial declared in Bob Menendez bribery case, senator vows political vengeance

A federal judge on Thursday declared a mistrial in the high-profile bribery case of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, after jurors twice reported they were hopelessly deadlocked.

“There’s no alternative to declaring a mistrial,” U.S. District Court Judge William Walls said.

The mistrial is a major victory for Menendez and a blow to the Justice Department whose efforts to go after politicians in recent years have not been successful.

Outside the courthouse, an emotional Menendez made clear he’s out for political vengeance.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez pauses to compose himself before speaking to reporters in front of the courthouse in Newark, N.J., Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez pauses to compose himself before speaking to reporters in front of the courthouse in Newark, N.J., Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

“To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you,” he said after the verdict.

Menendez also took a swipe at federal prosecutors and the FBI for pursuing the case against him in the first place.

'To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you.'

— Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

"Certain elements of the FBI and of our state cannot stand, or even worse, accept that the Latino kid from Union City and Hudson County could grow up to be a United States senator and be honest," said the 63-year-old son of Cuban immigrants.

Juror Edward Norris, a 49-year-old equipment operator, told reporters he didn’t “think the government proved anything.”

Norris told reporters that 10 people on the jury wanted to acquit Menendez of all charges while two held out for conviction.

Thursday’s mistrial brings an inconclusive end to the two-and-a-half month trial. Prosecutors could decide to retry Menendez though it’s unlikely, David Weinstein, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told Fox News.

“The other thing to consider is that this case was brought by a different attorney general and a different Department of Justice,” he said. “Politics has no place in the justice process … however, it does factor into it.”

Weinstein added that Walls made a “wise decision” by allowing both prosecutors and the defense lawyers to sit in with him as he spoke to jurors. What they learned during those sessions will also likely “color the DOJ’s decision to retry the case.”

But until a final decision is made, the case against Menendez will continue to hang over his head as he gears up for an expected run for re-election next year to the Senate.

On Capitol Hill, the top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called on the Ethics Committee to immediately investigate Menendez for possible violations of the public trust and the Senate code of conduct.

The case against Menendez marked the first time in almost a decade that a sitting U.S. senator faced a federal bribery charge.

According to the criminal complaint, Menendez greased the wheels for Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist.

Among other things, Menendez was accused of helping obtain visas for several of Melgen’s girlfriends as well as lobby the State Department on his behalf regarding a $500 million port security contract in the Dominican Republic.

Melgen, in turn, paid for private jets, hotel rooms and forked over nearly $75,000 in campaign contributions to Menendez.

The defense argued that the gifts were not bribes but tokens of friendship between two men who were "like brothers."

In Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell's closing argument, he used the words "friend," "friends" or "friendship" more than 80 times.

The Menendez case was the first major federal bribery trial since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 threw out the conviction of Republican former Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and narrowed the definition of bribery.

In recent months, the McDonnell ruling led judges to overturn the convictions of at least three other public officials, including a former Louisiana congressman. Menendez's lawyers had likewise hoped to get the case against the senator dismissed, but the judge refused.

Menendez served in the House from 1993 until he was appointed to fill a Senate vacancy in 2006. He has chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and was a major player in the unsuccessful bipartisan "Gang of Eight" effort to overhaul the nation's immigration laws in 2013.

More recently, he drew the ire of some fellow Democrats when he opposed former President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran and efforts to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Meanwhile Melgen, 63, was convicted of 67 counts of health care fraud in April, in what The Palm Beach Post called one of the biggest Medicare fraud cases in the U.S.

The lengthy case against Menendez took several frustrating turns.

Jurors were told repeatedly not to read reports about the case.

But four jurors and three alternates told Walls this week they had heard or read something about the trial over the weekend. He questioned them individually in his chambers.

And last week, Walls dismissed juror Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby so she could go on vacation with her family. That prompted Walls to tell the new jury — made up of seven women and five men — to begin fresh deliberations.

Panelists also asked Walls for the definition of a senator. The federal judge refused to answer.

He also declined a juror’s request last Monday for a transcript of the closing argument by Lowell, Menendez’s attorney.

Walls told jurors they would need to rely on their memories.

Fox News' Tara Prindiville and The Associated Press contributed to this report.