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Defense Blames Senator Menendez’s Wife as Bribery Trial Starts

A lawyer for Senator Robert Menendez on Wednesday laid blame for the bribery charges the senator faces squarely on his wife — a woman he found “dazzling” but who, his lawyer said, hid her dire finances and the source of her income from her powerful husband.

She had kept him in the dark about “what she was asking others to give her,” the lawyer, Avi Weitzman, told a jury in opening statements at the start of the senator’s federal corruption trial in Manhattan.

The gold and some of the cash that the F.B.I. found in a search of the senator’s New Jersey home — items that prosecutors say were bribes — were kept in a locked closet where his wife, Nadine Menendez, stored her clothing, Mr. Weitzman said.

“He did not know of the gold bars that existed in that closet,” Mr. Weitzman added, describing Mr. Menendez as an American patriot and “lifelong public servant” who “took no bribes.”

Prosecutors have charged Mr. Menendez, 70, and his wife with accepting gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, including cash, gold, home furnishings and a $60,000 Mercedes, in exchange for political favors for friends at home and the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

It is the second bribery trial of Mr. Menendez, a Democrat who has long been dogged by allegations of corruption. He walked away largely unscathed from the first, which ended in a hung jury in 2017 in New Jersey. But the new charges, leveled in September by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, are likely to end the senator’s three-decade career in Congress.

Who Are Key Players in the Menendez Case?

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and his wife, Nadine Menendez, are accused of taking part in a wide-ranging, international bribery scheme that lasted five years. Take a closer look at central figures related to the case.

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