NEWARK, N.J. — The judge in U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez's bribery trial refused a request from defense lawyers on Tuesday to show jurors parts of a TV interview and press release that references discredited rumors about the Democrat consorting with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.
Those rumors aren't a part of the 2015 indictment of Menendez and Florida-based ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. But attorney Abbe Lowell, representing Menendez, said they provide context for what Menendez was facing when he did the CNN interview in early 2013, when rumors first surfaced about the two men.
Clashes over what evidence will be shown to the jury dominated court proceedings again on Tuesday, including the clip of the interview with CNN reporter Dana Bash, where Menendez decries "nameless, faceless individuals on a website who can drive that type of story into the mainstream" and adds, "all those smears are absolutely false."
Prosecutors claimed that the interview, as well as other evidence, shows the New Jersey Democrat trying to conceal the number of flights he took on a plane owned by Melgen.
The defense has asserted in past court filings that the government's entire investigation of Menendez was tainted because it arose from the bogus prostitution allegations. The government has said it looked into the rumors because they involved "serious and specific allegations into child prostitution."
After a lengthy debate Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Walls said there was "no way in God's green earth" he would allow the evidence in.
"I'm not going to let you get into a discussion about smears and right-wing activities, OK?" he told the defense.
The two men are charged with a bribery scheme in which Menendez allegedly traded political influence for trips on Melgen's private jet and lavish accommodations in Paris and at Melgen's Dominican villa between 2006 and 2013. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors spent part of Tuesday methodically going over which flights Menendez took, either alone or with a female companion, between New Jersey and the Dominican Republic, with stops in Melgen's home state of Florida.
A previous witness had testified that Melgen spent about $8,000 to fly Menendez from Florida back to Washington, D.C., when Melgen's own plane was unavailable.
Menendez eventually paid back about $58,000 for some of the flights, but prosecutors charge that he took many more flights on Melgen's planes.
The trial, which is in its third week, has been punctuated by numerous arguments over evidence and lines of questioning, with the jury excused each time.
Earlier Tuesday, Walls said he would allow the defense to present evidence of actions Menendez took that are similar to those that prompted his bribery trial but aren't considered criminal.
For example, attorneys want to show he helped people get visas as part of his job, to counter charges that he took extra measures to obtain visas for three of Melgen's alleged foreign girlfriends in exchange for bribes.
Prosecutors had sought to have most of the evidence excluded. Walls said he would allow it but would limit it as he saw fit.