UPDATE: Judge Walls decided quickly, and has just declared a mistrial in this case. The decision was made after the judge interviewed all 12 jurors. We had more than an inkling of this outcome last week, when a juror excused for vacation came out and told reporters that she believed Menendez was innocent. This comes as a blow to federal prosecutors who have been investigating Menendez for 5 years. They can still refile charges against him. But it now appears to make extremely unlikely that lame duck governor Chris Christie will be able exercise the power of a governor to fill an empty seat with a member of his own party.
After Monday, when the jury sent a note to U.S. District Court Judge William Walls that they were deadlocked, it was always a possibility – a strong one – that the jury in Senator Bob Menendez corruption trial would stay deadlocked. And despite his instructions that they go back in fresh Tuesday morning and begin deliberations again, it now appears they are unable to come to a verdict on any of the 18 counts against Menendez and his co-defendant Salomon Melgen, Miami doctor, longtime friend and associate, and the man federal prosecutors say forked over luxuries like fancy hotel stays, trips on private jets and campaign contributions in exchange for a long list of things Melgen needed, like visas for his girlfriends, and the senator’s intervention in an $8.9 million billing dispute with Medicare. Melgen has already been convicted for defrauding Medicare and is awaiting sentencing.
We are now waiting to learn whether the judge will send jurors back for more deliberations, which is what is the prosecutor wants, or to throw in the towel which is what the defense wants. This may well be heading for mistrial, and that would be a victory for Menendez, though maybe only a temporary one. Defense attorney for the senator, Abbe Lowell, has asked several times for a mistrial. Washington Post makes this point regarding mistrial:
If the judge does declare a mistrial, the Justice Department would likely feel significant internal pressure to re-try the senator, because recent Supreme Court decisions have raised questions about how much legal authority prosecutors still have in pursuing corruption charges involving payments not explicitly and directly linked to official acts. Some legal experts have warned that a defeat for the government in the Menendez case could lead to a significant scaling back of Justice Departments efforts to fight public corruption.
But the political ramifications of this trial that are enormous. Remember the poll done almost two months ago, surveying likely voters in New Jersey, that found that an overwhelming 84% would want Menendez to resign if convicted, against only 10% who said he should stay. That’s a magic number for some hungry politicians who see themselves as a United States senator – or whose brothers stand ready to make such an elevation happen, as they have a few times before. Republicans now control the Senate, so there would certainly be pressure on Menendez to resign if convicted. And now is a dicey period; Democrat Phil Murphy won his election but isn’t seated until January. A Senate vacancy before then might mean that Christie could appoint a Republican to fill out Menendez’ term, increasing the GOP Senate majority and giving that Republican the advantage of incumbency in a 2018 election.
Senator Menendez has proclaimed his innocence all along, that Melgen was his closest friend, that prosecutors were trying to “criminalize” that friendship. He has not said that he would step down if convicted. Prosecutors contend that Menendez was Melgen’s “personal senator” and in 6 weeks of testimony, spent a lot of time detailing the luxuries Melgen allegedly made available in what they call “bribes” to get the senator to help him Menendez to help him deal with problems he was having with the governments of both the U.S. and the Dominican Republic over a 7-year period. Last week, as the jury was deliberating, Sen. Menendez said the “exoneration” he is expecting is “worth waiting for.”
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press