Jury selection starts in Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial • Pennsylvania Capital-Star

Eight months after federal authorities indicted Sen. Bob Menendez in a wide-ranging corruption scheme, his trial got off to a slow start in Manhattan Monday, with the federal judge excusing almost a third of the 150 potential jurors called.

U.S. Judge Sidney Stein warned them the trial could last into the first week of July and briefly summarized the accusations in prosecutors’ 18-count indictment against New Jersey’s senior senator. Prosecutors say the senator accepted gold bars, cash, a luxury car, and more as bribes from three businessmen to disrupt several criminal probes and prosecutions, steer military arms and aid to Egypt, help one land a lucrative deal with a Qatari investor, help another gain a monopoly on meat imports to Egypt, and conspired to cover it all up as investigators closed in.

When the judge subsequently asked which potential jurors had substantial reasons they could not serve, dozens of hands shot up, and they were called one by one into a separate room for questioning by Stein and two members each of the prosecution and defense teams.

Some of those who sought an out cited scheduling conflicts, travel plans, and work or family obligations, while others told Stein they could not be fair. Some had very specific excuses. One juror told Stein he has an extreme fear of heights (Stein’s courtroom is on the 23rd floor, with windows overlooking the city).

Another said she has a trip scheduled to Europe later this month and plans to see Bruce Springsteen in Spain.

Stein noted that Springsteen recently announced new tour dates.

“You could catch him, probably in Giants Stadium,” he said.

Another potential juror told Stein she’s a housing attorney who gets “worked up” when she hears about public corruption and called the case “triggering.”

Another said she recently became a children’s librarian in Greenwich, Connecticut, and fretted about a lengthy trial’s impact on her job, as she hasn’t passed her probationary period there. That prompted Stein to rhapsodize about being a children’s librarian in another life.

“I’m telling you, that’s what I would do, children’s librarian,” he said.

Back in the courtroom, Menendez sat alone at a defense table and stared forward silently, his fingers steepled in front of him in the hushed courtroom. His co-defendants, businessman Wael Hana and real estate developer Fred Daibes, sat beside their attorneys at a separate table.

By mid-afternoon, Stein had excused 38 jurors from an initial pool of 100 and called another 50 people in for questioning. About a dozen are expected to be excused from that last batch when the initial round of questioning wraps up Tuesday.

It was an anticlimactic start for a trial that promises plenty of drama, given the more salacious parts of prosecutors’ indictment and the details that have emerged since — that the bribes typically went to and through the senator’s wife, Nadine; that he probably will blame her; that he used his powerful position as head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to act as a foreign agent; and that he may explain his hoarded riches as a trauma response to his father’s suicide and his family’s refugee experience.

The senator, his attorneys at his side, breezed past a mob of photographers and television journalists Monday morning on his way into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse, just two blocks from where former President Trump’s trial is unfolding.

He wore a navy suit with his Senate pin on the lapel and went through security like everyone else, doffing his belt before walking through the metal detector. In the courtroom, he smiled and chatted with his attorneys as they waited for proceedings to start.

Before calling in prospective jurors, Stein scolded attorneys who filed a flurry of briefs and motions over the weekend.

“There’s been too much gamesmanship here, and I want it to end now,” he barked. “Everybody has to operate in good faith here. I’m not sure I’ve seen it.”

The trial resumes Tuesday morning, with attorneys expected to pick a jury from the remaining 100 or so potential jurors by interrogating them further on everything from their understanding of halal food to their thoughts on keeping cash at home instead of in a bank account to their perceptions of New Jersey residents, politicians, wealthy people, immigrants, Coptic Christians, Egypt, and more.

This report was first published by the New Jersey Monitor, which is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity and includes .

Originally published at penncapital-star.com,by Dana DiFilippo

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