The U.S. attorney says Menendez asked him to reconsider the wealthy donor’s case

NEW YORK — Philip Selinger, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, testified Wednesday that he had an unusual conversation with Sen. Bob Menendez for a late 2020 prosecutorial job, months after he was one of dozens of guests at the senator’s intimate wedding. ceremony

Selinger, a prosecution witness in Menendez’s corruption trial in Manhattan federal court, described himself as a longtime friend and fundraiser for the New Jersey Democrat. He and lawmakers would play golf with their sons and take dinner outings with their wives, he said.

That all changed after Selinger took office in December 2021 and was acquitted of a fraud case against real estate developer Fred Teibs, he testified. Teibes is now a co-defendant in the trial, accused of bribing Menendez and his wife with gold bars and cash.

When Selinger invited Menendez to his investiture ceremony, the senator turned him down, he testified. They haven’t spoken since.

“He said: ‘I’m passing. The only thing worse than not having a relationship with the United States Attorney is people thinking you have a relationship with the United States Attorney, and you don’t,'” Selinger recalled Menendez telling him.

Wednesday’s testimony included key witnesses in the prosecution’s case. Selinger took the stand shortly after New Jersey trucking and insurance executive Jose Uribe said he paid bribes to the senator. His then girlfriend A Mercedes-Benz convertible.

Menendez, 70, was charged with 16 felony counts including bribery, extortion, wire fraud, acting as a foreign agent for Egypt and obstruction of justice. If convicted on all charges, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Daibes and the other co-defendant in the trial, businessman Wael “Will” Hana, could face decades in prison if convicted.

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The senator’s current wife, Nadine Menendez, was charged along with them, but a trial is scheduled for later.

Under questioning from Menendez attorney Avi Weitzman, Sellinger said he and the senator have been discussing the U.S. attorney position for years. Menendez had said he would nominate Hillary Clinton for the White House if she won the 2016 presidential election.

“I never believed he was asking me to do anything unethical or improper,” Selinger testified.

Taibes has been charged in 14 counts of bank fraud since 2018 and faces significant prison time. New Jersey federal prosecutors reached a plea deal that required him to plead guilty to a felony in exchange for no prison time. A judge threw out that deal in October.

The December 2020 meeting in Menendez’s office in Washington began with routine fare, Selinger recalled. The two discussed his priorities and vision for the top prosecutor’s job, as well as civil rights, violent crime and candidates for Selinger’s leadership team. Menendez later said Teibs had been “treated unfairly” by federal prosecutors and asked Selinger to “watch carefully” if he is confirmed.

In a phone call the next day, Selinger testified, he told Menendez that he would look at all cases carefully before recusing himself from the tapes case. While in private practice, Selinger said he represented a client whose interests were “adversely” in a civil case.

Although Menendez indicated that he understood, Selinger received another call from the senator a few days later: The White House would not nominate him, so Menendez would not nominate him.

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Selinger testified that he told Menendez that the denial decision would be made by other officials in the Justice Department. “The process is very clear. … I have not made any decision as to whether or not I should be recalled — I have communicated that to Senator Menendez.

But a candidate endorsed by Menendez and New Jersey’s junior senator, Cory Booker (D), ultimately lost. In the spring of 2021, Selinger again expressed interest in the attorney’s work. He was nominated and confirmed later that year.

The following March, Selinger met with Menendez’s top political adviser, Mike Soliman, at a Spanish restaurant in Newark.

“At one point in the conversation, he says, ‘Let me ask you a question,'” Selinger testified. “I said, ‘I’ll put you there.'”

He told Soliman, who is expected to take the witness stand later this week: “As US attorney, I want you to know that I am not authorized to have any conversation about the business of the office with any federally elected officials. or their representatives. … He indicated that he understood.

Weeks later, Menendez declined an invitation to speak at the attorney general’s inauguration.

Cross-examination of Selinger will continue Thursday.

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