Federal judge denies Senator Bob Menendez motion to dismiss conspiracy charges News
U.S. Department of State from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Federal judge denies Senator Bob Menendez motion to dismiss conspiracy charges

A US federal judge in New York denied a motion to dismiss on Thursday from Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in his pending conspiracy case. In the order, Judge Sidney Stein found that the constitutional challenges Menendez raised in his motion did not cover the charges. Menendez pleaded not guilty to the four charges—which alleged that Menendez conspired to act as a foreign agent of Egypt and Qatar—earlier this week.

Menendez challenged the four charges under the Speech and Debate Clause of the US Constitution. The clause generally prevents US lawmakers from being penalized for speech in their capacity as lawmakers. Menendez argued that his participation in recommending to the US president a nominee for the US Attorney’s Office, in addition to his meetings in Egypt that disclosed confidential information to the country, was protected by this clause.

In the order, Stein stated that the courts have found:

[E]ven activity that might otherwise sit comfortably within the heartland of Speech or Debate clause—speech on the House floor—is denied protection from the Clause when the speech is not made “in the court of the legislative process,” but rather functions as a “widespread solicitation to commit a crime.”

Menendez also argued that his acts in Egypt were protected by the Speech and Debate Clause as he was acting within his capacity as a lawmaker. However, Stein found these acts were not covered. She wrote, “Surely meetings with, and the provision of information to, Egyptian officials in relation to a corrupt bribery scheme must be viewed as occurring outside of the legislative process.”

Since Stein rejected Menendez’s motion, the case is expected to continue forward with the four charges, as charged. Menendez is charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, and conspiracy for a public official to act as a foreign agent. Menendez has pleaded not guilty to the four charges. Serving as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez is charged along with his wife and three other individuals. They have also pleaded not guilty.