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Jury sworn in for bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez

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(NEW YORK) -- A jury was selected and sworn in Wednesday for the bribery trial of Sen. Bob Menendez.

Federal prosecutors in New York have alleged that the New Jersey Democrat accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in the form of cash, gold bars, mortgage payments and a luxury convertible in exchange for the senator's political clout. Three New Jersey businessmen who were also charged, along with the governments of Egypt and Qatar, were the alleged recipients.

Menendez has pleaded not guilty to 16 federal charges including bribery, fraud, acting as a foreign agent and obstruction.

The seated jury includes a retired economist, an occupational therapist who likes "hanging out with my dog," an attorney originally from Michigan and someone who "had a nephew locked up for molestation." All pledged to be fair.

"I'm going to ask, to the extent you feel comfortable, to minimize your news intake," Judge Sidney Stein told prospective jurors at one point.

Menendez, 70, remained seated at the defense table in a navy suit and dark pink tie, occupying himself by reading or merely sitting with his hand on his chin, while his attorneys decided which prospective jurors to accept and reject. Two co-defendants were seated behind him in the Manhattan federal courtroom.

A third co-defendant pleaded guilty ahead of the trial.

The senator's wife, who was also charged in the case, will be tried separately in July due to a medical condition.

Opening statements in Menendez's trial are scheduled to begin Wednesday afternoon.

Before opening statements, the judge precluded testimony from a psychiatrist the defense hoped would bolster Menendez's claim that he stashed cash in his home as a result of a "fear of scarcity." Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, has said it was part of his upbringing to keep cash lying around, but Stein said the psychiatrist's testimony "just doesn't stand up."

Menendez is the first sitting member of Congress to be charged with conspiracy by a public official to act as a foreign agent.

The senator has maintained his innocence since his initial indictment last year.

In March, he announced that will not seek another term as a Democrat but he left open the possibility of running in November as an independent.

 

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