NEWARK, N.J. – Jurors in Sen. Bob Menendez’s bribery trial went another day without reaching a verdict after a judge told them to “take as much time as you need” to deliberate on 18 counts against the New Jersey Democrat and his wealthy friend.
The panel deliberated all day Tuesday without reaching consensus, a day after they’d sent a note to U.S. District Judge William Walls saying they were deadlocked on all the counts. Walls told them to sleep on it and return in the morning.
When they came back Tuesday, he reminded them that juries frequently take time to come to a consensus.
“Take as much time as you need,” he said. “This is not reality TV. This is real life.”
Deliberations began last week, but the jury restarted on Monday after a juror was excused for a previously scheduled vacation and was replaced by an alternate.
Menendez spoke to reporters outside of the courthouse after the jury left for the day, blasting attempts by Republicans in the Senate to repeal the Obama health care law requirement that Americans get health insurance. He compared his efforts to fight against that to jurors who have chosen not to convict him.
“I appreciate the jurors who have been standing up for my innocence during the course of jury deliberations, standing up for me as I have stood up for New Jerseyans,” Menendez said.
While the chances of a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury can increase the longer a jury stays out, Walls has the authority to tell jurors they are allowed to reach a verdict on some counts even if they can’t agree on all. He hasn’t made that instruction yet.
Defense attorneys argued Tuesday that Walls’ instructions to jurors after receiving their note Monday appeared to strongly encourage them to reach a verdict one way or the other, while not mentioning a deadlock as an acceptable outcome. Walls asked them to provide him with case law to support their argument.
The trial is in its 11th week. Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen are charged with running a bribery scheme between 2006 and 2013 in which Menendez lobbied government officials on Melgen’s behalf in exchange for luxury vacations and flights on Melgen’s private plane.
The men each face about a dozen counts including bribery, fraud and conspiracy. Menendez also is charged with making false statements for failing to report Melgen’s gifts on Senate disclosure forms.
Both men deny the allegations. Defense attorneys have sought to show jurors that the two men are longtime pals who exchanged gifts out of friendship. They also contend Menendez’s meetings with government officials were focused on broad policy issues.
The government spent more than two years investigating the New Jersey senator’s ties with Melgen before indicting them in the spring of 2015. Menendez, the former chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, has maintained his innocence since then, and has raised more than $6 million for his campaign and legal defense fund since the indictment.
A mistrial would aid Menendez by not subjecting him to pressure to step down in the event of a conviction. Conversely, the charges likely would be hanging over him as he seeks re-election next year, assuming the government seeks a retrial.
The trial is the first major federal corruption trial since a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling raised the bar for prosecutors to prove official bribery. That ruling, which overturned the conviction of former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, played a significant role in how the jury was instructed in the Menendez trial.
Associated Press writer Anthony Izaguirre contributed to this story.