Court papers show Sen. Bob Menendez may testify his wife kept him in the dark, unaware of any crimes


NEW YORK (AP) — Sen. Bob Menendez may seek exoneration at his May bribery trial by blaming his wife, saying she kept him in the dark about anything that could be illegal about her dealings with New Jersey businessmen, according to court papers unsealed Tuesday.

Several sentences in a January court filing by lawyers for the Democrat were unsealed in Manhattan federal court after some news organizations insisted that public disclosure was required. Menendez’s lawyers had redacted the documents, claiming that the sentences revealed trial strategy that could bias the jury pool.

According to the passages that were unsealed, Menendez plans to testify about what he believes were exculpatory communications with his wife, Nadine, if he decides to take the witness stand in his defense.

“While these explanations, and the marital communications on which they rely, will tend to exonerate Senator Menendez by demonstrating the absence of any improper intent on Senator Menendez’s part, they may inculpate Nadine by demonstrating the ways in which she withheld information from Senator Menendez or otherwise led him to believe that nothing unlawful was taking place,” the lawyers wrote.

As they sought to sever the trials of the senator and his wife, the lawyers said they planned to assert at trial that Sen. Menendez lacked the knowledge necessary to commit a crime and did not agree to any of the conspiracies outlined in the indictment against him.

With such a trial strategy, the lawyers said they may have to argue, in effect, that any crimes involved the actions of others, including his wife, rather than the senator. They added, though, that they were not aware of any unlawful conduct.

Although the motion to sever the trials was initially denied, Judge Sidney H. Stein has since ruled that they can take place separately after it was revealed that Nadine Menendez needs surgery in the next six weeks. Her trial is now delayed until at least July.

The Menendezes and two businessmen have pleaded not guilty to charges that they participated in a bribery scheme in which prosecutors say cash and gold bars were given to the couple in return for the senator carrying out political favors. Bob Menendez chaired the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he stepped down from the role in September because of the allegations.

A third businessman, Jose Uribe, has pleaded guilty to bribery charges and agreed to testify against the others at trial. Uribe said he conspired with Nadine Menendez and others to provide her with a Mercedes-Benz in return for access to her husband’s power and influence.

According to the indictment, the Menendezes accepted bribes to help one businessmen get a lucrative meat-certification deal with Egypt and another associate get a deal with a Qatari investment fund.

The redacted passages in the March filing were unsealed after media organizations led by NBCUniversal Media and including The Associated Press argued that the public’s right to access the documents overrode any concerns by Menendez’s attorneys.

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