Fellow senators, along with current and former staffers, have receive the official go-ahead from the Senate to testify at Sen. Bob Menendez’s upcoming bribery trial in federal court in New Jersey.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, acting with the backing of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, offered a resolution Wednesday night authorizing the testimony. The measure, which does not specify which senators or aides have been subpoenaed, passed by unanimous consent.
“This resolution would authorize Senate individuals called to appear to testify and produce documents in this case and related proceedings, except concerning matters for which a privilege is asserted,” McConnell said on the floor. “It would also authorize the Senate Legal Counsel to represent individuals called to testify at trial as fact witnesses regarding their performance of official Senate responsibilities.”
Providing such representation is standard practice whenever lawmakers or congressional aides are called as witnesses.
Opening arguments are set for Sept. 6 as Menendez goes on trial on charges he accepted nearly $1 million in political funds and gifts from a prominent eye doctor as part of a corrupt bargain to influence official decisions. Jury selection is scheduled to get underway in earnest later this month.
In March, the Supreme Court declined to hear Menendez’s pretrial challenge to the corruption charges.
Dr. Salomon Melgen, the source of the funds and a major Democratic donor, was convicted in April in a Florida federal court of more than 60 counts of Medicare fraud. The 62-year-old faces sentencing in that case next week and could receive what amounts to a life sentence. His attorney contends those convictions should not have an impact on the corruption cases in New Jersey, where Melgen is also charged.
Menendez served in the Senate since 2006 and stepped down from his position as Senate Chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations after his 2015 federal corruption indictment. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. He’s up for re-election next year.
Spokespeople for McConnell and Menendez described the resolution as routine when federal courts seek testimony or records related to official Senate work.
"It is standard for the Senate, its Members, and staff to cooperate in investigations and judicial proceedings," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said.
"It is pro forma [and] required should any employee of the Senate be asked by the government’s or senator’s counsel to provide documents or testimony and authorizes any such employee also be represented by Senate legal counsel," Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said.
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.