Sen. Bob Menendez's lawyers compare him to Taylor Swift in latest corruption case filing

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What do Sen. Bob Menendez and Taylor Swift have in common?

New Jersey's senior senator, federally indicted on corruption and bribery charges, invoked the 14-Grammy Award winner in a recent legal filing. Menendez's lawyers mentioned Swift in a brief written in support of a recent motion to dismiss his case.

Among the charges brought by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are allegations that Menendez agreed to use his political connections to influence a state matter. Menendez, federal prosecutors contend, recommended that President Joe Biden nominate an individual as New Jersey's U.S. attorney who Menendez believed could be influenced to disrupt the federal criminal prosecution of prominent Bergen County developer Fred Daibes.

Daibes allegedly gave Menendez gold bars and envelopes of cash in return for Menendez helping Daibes get a Qatari investment company with ties to that country’s government to invest in a Daibes property by doing things that were viewed as favorable to the government of Qatar.

The indictment alleged Menedez contacted a state official and agreed to “call” another one “in an attempt … to resolve these matters favorably." Menendez's lawyers, in turn, summoned Swift in making a comparison in their recent filing.

Singer Taylor Swift and Actress Blake Lively react prior to Super Bowl LVIII between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Singer Taylor Swift and Actress Blake Lively react prior to Super Bowl LVIII between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"That is not the crime of federal bribery. It is akin to paying any prominent person (say, Taylor Swift) to influence a state proceeding," Menendez's legal team wrote in court documents. "She certainly has influence (perhaps more than a senator!), and paying her to intercede may feel unethical, but since it does not involve the corruption of any official power, it does not amount to bribery."

The filing, a 48-page reply memorandum of law in support of Menendez's first motion to dismiss the indictment, comes a week after federal prosecutors responded to the motion with their own 196-page document.

In the memorandum, the senator's lawyers break down each argument related to what they call the five "schemes" mentioned in the superseding indictment that include his wife, Nadine Menendez, Daibes and New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana and Jose Uribe. They are the New Jersey State Scheme, U.S. Attorney Scheme, Qatar Investment Scheme, IS EG Halal Scheme and the Egypt Aid Scheme, which prosecutors used to put together what they called a "Frankenstein indictment" to try to make their case. Menendez's lawyers again argue for the indictment's dismissal.

The mention of Swift came in the portion of the memorandum Menendez's lawyers devoted to the so-called New Jersey State scheme. In that part of their filing, the lawyers try to debunk prosecutors' assertions about Jose Uribe, a New Jersey businessman indicted alongside Menendez. Uribe paid for a new car for Menendez's wife, prosecutors allege.

"Viewed another way, the government’s allegation is akin to paying a senator to attempt to influence the outcome of the Super Bowl or Academy Awards," Menendez's lawyers wrote. "Again, at least absent allegations explaining why the official has power or leverage over the matter, that sort of an agreement might violate ethics rules but is no more a federal bribe than the hypothetical payment to Taylor Swift."

Government responds to Menendez motion to dismiss

The latest documents filed in the federal case against Menendez provide a glimpse into what seems to be the government’s trial strategy.

In their 196-page response to the motion, federal prosecutors debunked Menendez's claims for dismissal that hung on the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution and the Supreme Court's McDonnell v. United States decision from 2016 that defined what an "official act" is.

"Indeed, Menendez’s Speech or Debate claims are substantially similar to those he pressed in his prior federal criminal case, which were uniformly and thoroughly rejected, both in the district court and on appeal," the government wrote.

Among the detailed opposition, some new details emerged regarding a confidential source and secret recordings and translations.

"The recording by a confidential source discussing the bribery scheme reflects that there was no honor among thieves," the New York United States attorney wrote. "Hana 'swindled' Menendez and (expletive over) Nadine Menendez by not giving them the full value of the bribes they should have received. Far from undermining that Menendez and Hana were in a conspiracy, the evidence that Hana allegedly took more of what he recognized as bribes and shortchanged the Menendezes is proof that the bribery scheme indeed existed."

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Filings follow motions to suppress evidence

In recent weeks, lawyers for Menendez have moved for certain evidence — including the infamous gold barsto be suppressed on the grounds that the search warrants used to find it violated his Fourth Amendment rights. It calls the warrants invasive and retaliation for Menendez's having beaten prior corruption charges in 2017.

His wife and co-defendant, Nadine Arslanian Menendez, later filed a motion for the same thing.

There have also been motions by media organizations, including Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC, on behalf of The Record and, to unseal documents that have been entered in the case.

When Menendez made his motion to dismiss the superseding indictment, he said his actions were “not official acts” and that the prosecutors hid key evidence from the public and court. However, the descriptions of examples of more than a dozen pages are sealed documents.

In recent weeks, Menendez and his team have been on the offensive in their efforts to discredit the efforts of the prosecutors.

Last month, the state’s senior senator spoke from the Senate chamber floor, saying the timing of the indictment, originally filed in September and then updated in October and again in early January, is part of a plan by the government to keep the “sensational story in the press."

"It poisons the jury pool and it seeks to convict me in the court of public opinion,” which he said harms not just himself, but his Senate colleagues, the political establishment and the people of New Jersey.

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Menendez said the federal prosecutor’s office is engaged “not in a prosecution but a persecution” and that it wants a “victory, not justice.”

The most recent version of the indictment alleges that Menendez received payments including cash and gold bars from Daibes in return for helping Daibes get a Qatari investment company with ties to that country’s government to invest in a Daibes property by doing things that were viewed as favorable to the government of Qatar.

In June 2021, Menendez allegedly introduced Daibes to a member of the Qatari royal family and the principal of the investment firm, who then negotiated a multimillion-dollar investment in one of Daibes' New Jersey real estate properties.

Menendez would allegedly give statements supporting the Qatari government to Daibes before they were released publicly so he could share them with the Qatari investor and a Qatari government official associated with the investment firm, the indictment says.

What is at the core of the federal case?

The senator was first indicted in this case last fall and faces corruption charges, brought by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Daibes and two other businessmen in exchange for helping them enrich themselves and trying to get them out of legal trouble.

He and the other four defendants — his wife and businessmen Daibes, Hana and Uribe — have all entered not guilty pleas.

The indictment alleges that between 2018 and 2022, Menendez and his wife “engaged in a corrupt relationship with Hana, Uribe and Daibes” to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for Menendez using his “power and influence to protect, to enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt” even as he sat as chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Bribes allegedly included cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low- or no-show job and a Mercedes-Benz — much of which is detailed in photographs in the 50-page indictment.

The senator has said the allegations that he worked as a foreign agent for Egypt are an “unprecedented accusation and it has never ever been levied against a sitting member of Congress.”

“It opens a dangerous door for the Justice Department to take the normal engagement of members of Congress with a foreign government and to transform those engagements into being a foreign agent,” he said.

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Will Menendez seek reelection?

Menendez is up for reelection this fall, and to secure his spot on the ballot, he will need to win the New Jersey primary on June 4, likely around the time of closing arguments in the case if the trial date stands.

"This is, no doubt, a particularly high-profile prosecution that involves serious — albeit false and highly misleading — allegations of misconduct," Menendez's attorney's wrote on Monday to support his motion to dismiss. "And the mere filing of these unproved charges, in itself, has caused immense harm to the senator and his reputation in the middle of an active election cycle."

Rep. Andy Kim and New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy have announced that they will run in the Democratic primary for Menendez's seat.

In December, Menendez's attorneys requested that his trial be delayed by two months — from May 6 until July, after the primary election in which his Senate seat will be on the ballot — because of the amount of discovery submitted by the government, but the request was denied.

This article originally appeared on Bob Menendez invokes Taylor Swift in new legal filing