Trial of Sen. Bob Menendez takes a weeklong break after jurors get stuck in elevator

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., leaves federal court, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)
Sen. Robert Menendez leaves federal court in New York on May 21. (Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)

The trial of Sen. Robert Menendez grinded to a weeklong break Tuesday after federal court jurors who were treated to a brick-by-brick build of the prosecution's bribery case got stuck in an elevator a day after they were forced from their usual assembly room because of flooding.

Judge Sidney H. Stein said jurors were trapped in an elevator for several minutes during what was supposed to be a 10-minute late-afternoon break that lasted almost a half hour.

The elevator breakdown came as jurors were shuttled between floors to an assembly room because carpeting in their usual assembly room just outside the courtroom was found to be soaked Monday after somebody left sink faucets on over the weekend. As jurors left for the day, Stein jokingly warned them: “Don't all get into one elevator.”

The mishap came on a day when prosecutors built their case against the Democrat with evidence they hoped would score points with jurors against Menendez and his two co-defendants — two New Jersey businessmen who the government claims paid him bribes consisting of gold bars, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and a car.

Lawyers for Menendez, 70, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and the businessmen say their clients are not guilty and that the government is trying to turn common interactions between a politician and his constituents into crimes.

Read more: For a second time, Sen. Robert Menendez faces a corruption trial. This time, it involves gold bars

Among the witnesses Tuesday was a man who worked for the State Department during the years when prosecutors say Menendez used his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to do favors for Egypt so he could keep bribes flowing.

Joshua Paul, who now works as a consultant for a nonprofit, testified that the committee and its chairperson have extraordinary powers over the State Department because it controls its leadership, dictates how it operates and confirms ambassadors worldwide.

After his arrest last fall, Menendez was forced to step down from the post, though he has resisted calls for him to leave the Senate.

Prosecutors say Menendez did things benefitting Egyptian officials so that he could receive bribes in exchange for clearing the way for one co-defendant to secure a lucrative monopoly to certify that meat exported to Egypt from U.S. slaughterhouses met Islamic dietary requirements.

Besides bribery, extortion, fraud and obstruction of justice, Menendez is also charged with acting as a foreign agent of Egypt.

Neumeister writes for the Associated Press.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.