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Prosecutors say messages between Sen. Menendez and wife reveal details of Egypt-focused scheme – New Jersey Monitor

In text messages, emails and voicemails, Nadine Arslanian gushes like a lovestruck teenager shortly after she began dating Sen. Bob Menendez in 2018, calling him “my love,” “the love of my life” and “my very beautiful senator”.

She followed those sweet words with demands that went well beyond the normal romantic chatter of new relationships, asking the senator to hold unofficial meetings with Egyptian military leaders to discuss security issues, to disclose details about US Embassy staff in Cairo and share information. on US military aid temporarily withheld from Egypt due to human rights violations.

The third week of Menendez’s corruption trial began Tuesday in Manhattan with prosecutor Paul Monteleoni and FBI special agent Michael Coughlin painstakingly presenting nearly four hours of messages to show how Nadine, who married the senator in October 2020, served as an intermediary in schemes that enticed prosecutors. to charge Menendez with acting as a foreign agent. In a voice message played to jurors, Monteleoni asked the senator to meet with an Egyptian official at his embassy.

“Hello, it’s me calling my very handsome senator,” Nadine crooned. “I have something to ask you.”

Menendez served as a senior member and then chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee until he abandoned his leadership role on the committee shortly after his indictment.

In many cases, after communicating with Menendez, Nadine forwarded her responses — often verbatim and within minutes — to her longtime friend Wael Hana, the Egyptian-American businessman who prosecutors say forwarded information to Egyptian officials with the aim of obtaining a monopoly on the sector. exports halal meat there.

During a text exchange, Nadine handed her phone to attorney Andy Aslanian, who worked for the Egyptian Ministry of Defense in Washington, D.C., so he could text Menendez directly to set up a meeting. Other texts document communications seeking to arrange meetings between Menendez and Egyptian Maj. Gen. Khaled Ahmed Shawky Osman, Defense, Army, Navy and Air Attaché to the United States and Canada .

Another email from Menendez’s personal Gmail showed a ghostwritten letter — with the opening and closing salutations left blank — that prosecutors say Menendez wrote for Egyptian officials. The missive aimed to persuade US senators concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt to lift the suspension of US military aid to Egypt.

Most of the messages happened in secret – on the couple’s private Gmail accounts and on encrypted apps like Viber and WhatsApp.

But Menendez occasionally looped around his Senate team, asking someone to find out how many Americans and Egyptians worked at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. At least one exchange suggested staff had qualms about the request.

“Do you have any idea how many Americans are assigned to the embassy?” Don’t ask why I ask…” a Senate member wrote to a State Department employee.

The Egyptian allegations are arguably the most seismic of the accusations made by federal prosecutors in a sweeping indictment filed last fall against Sen. Menendez, Nadine Menendez, Hana and businessmen Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe. Hana, Daibes and Uribe are accused of cheating the New Jersey senator and his wife with gold bars, nearly $500,000 in cash, a Mercedes-Benz convertible and other bribes in exchange of various favors. Menendez, a Democrat who has held the Senate seat since 2006, has denied any wrongdoing and said he hid the money to cope with the trauma of his father’s suicide and his family’s experience as a as refugees forced to flee Cuba with nothing.

Uribe pleaded guilty in March and is expected to testify against the couple. Nadine’s trial has been postponed until at least July as she battles breast cancer.

Late

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein Tuesday that they are “slightly behind schedule” on a trial expected to last until July.

Tuesday got off to a bad start, with Stein pushing back his testimony until early afternoon because a juror – who was recovering from a weekend injury – was unable to make it to the federal courthouse Daniel Patrick Moynihan by then.

Stein did not rule on a request filed by prosecutors over the weekend asking him to reconsider his decision Friday night that blocks them from introducing texts that they say most explicitly show Hana’s “corrupt expectations.” , Nadine and Egyptian officials.

In one, Nadine sent Hana an article about ongoing arms sales and wrote, “Bob must have approved this. » In another, an Egyptian official asked Hana if Menendez held $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt.

Defense attorneys argued that such communications should be excluded because they concern official legislative acts, and that the Constitution’s speech and debate clause protects lawmakers from being held accountable for their official legislative actions.

But in an argument last Tuesday after Stein dismissed jurors for recess, Monteleoni countered that the clause “is also not designed to immunize members of the Super Citizen Congress from criminal liability.” The messages were also sent and received by third parties communicating about their “corruption deal,” rather than the actions of the senator himself, he added.

Stein told both sides Tuesday that he was still studying the issue.

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