A day after a judge declared a mistrial in Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption case, Sen. Cory Booker voiced support for his New Jersey colleague and said it was hard to see how the Justice Department could justify a retrial.
Booker, who took the stand as a character witness for Menendez during the trial, said jurors “overwhelmingly” found that prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to prove that Menendez was bribed by his friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
Ed Norris, a member of the jury, told reporters that the Justice Department did not offer up “smoking gun” evidence to prove corruption. Norris said the jury leaned 10-2 toward acquittal on the most serious charges. The jury ultimately deadlocked on all 18 counts against both men, and U.S. District Judge William H. Walls declared a mistrial on Thursday afternoon.
“I’ve only known Bob to be an honest public servant who has worked tirelessly on behalf of our state and nation, and yesterday’s decision clearly reaffirms this,” Booker said in a statement Friday. “After being presented with the prosecution’s best case in a months-long trial, a jury of Bob’s peers overwhelmingly felt that there was not sufficient evidence to substantiate any of the prosecution’s wide-ranging claims.”
Booker added that the mistrial should close the book on the bribery allegations. “I’m hopeful that yesterday marks the end of this chapter — it’s hard to see how the government can justify another trial,” he said. “New Jerseyans need Bob in Washington, and I’m grateful for his unwavering service throughout this ordeal. I look forward to working alongside Bob for many years to come.”
Booker would support Menendez if he chose to run for re-election in 2018, according to a spokesman.
A Justice Department spokesman said Thursday after Walls declared a mistrial that prosecutors “will carefully consider next steps in this important matter and report to the court at the appropriate time,” leaving open the possibility that Menendez, who was not acquitted Thursday, could face a retrial next year.
Asked about that possibility at a West New York event on Friday morning, Menendez also referenced Norris’s comments and said the jury had sent the government “a powerful message.”
“If after years of preparation of this case, if after years of prosecuting, if after hundreds of agents, millions of taxpayer dollars — that the result is that 10 of the 12 jurors simply said that they did not believe any of the charges, I think that is a pretty powerful message,” Menendez said.
Backing Menendez presents risks for Booker, a rising Democratic star since he was mayor of Newark who is often discussed as a potential presidential candidate. But Booker, who was first elected to the Senate in 2013, is close to Menendez and often speaks highly of his skills as a legislator.
“I know that many who are close to him urged him not to testify,” Menendez said of Booker on Thursday, addressing reporters after the judge declared a mistrial. “But it’s the measure of an incredible man who is willing not only to use his personal reputation, but take a risk in order to see justice done. He is a public servant of unlimited potential who could just as easily serve our country in the highest office of all of the land.”
Virtually all of the state’s Democratic leaders and party bosses quickly pledged to support Menendez if he ran for a third term in 2018.
“I stand with Bob Menendez as I have from the beginning because I know he is a good man and a dedicated fighter,” John Currie, the chairman of the Democratic State Committee, said Thursday. “I believe that today, justice prevailed.”
Menendez has not announced whether he will seek re-election.