WASHINGTON – Sen. Bob Menendez accused federal prosecutors Thursday night of being "preoccupied with sex," leaking damaging information to the media, and presenting false testimony and faulty instructions to a grand jury.
"Contrary to the prosecution's rhetoric, neither defendant asks for special treatment," lawyers for Menendez and fellow defendant Salomon Melgen wrote in one of several legal filings. "They merely request what any citizen is entitled to: that the government use common sense and fairness when it pursues justice, and that it not turn an obvious political smear campaign, launched weeks before an election, into a witch hunt."
The filings, late Thursday, are part of the New Jersey Democrat's attempt to have federal corruption charges dismissed. They come in response to prosecutors' arguments in August assailing Menendez's claims.
Menendez and Melgen, a South Florida eye doctor and major political donor, face bribery and corruption charges accusing the senator of trading official favors in exchange for lavish gifts from his friend. Both have said they are innocent.
Menendez's filings return again to the shadowy accusation that began the investigation: an uncorroborated, anonymous claim online that he and Melgen frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. An investigation into that claim led to the corruption charges.
While no charges have emerged from the prostitution claim, both sides have prominently cited the mysterious allegation. Menendez's lawyers say prosecutors improperly focused on the unproven claim to prejudice the grand jury as they pursued other charges.
They also say that an "eyewitness" cited by prosecutors as seeing prostitutes at Melgen's Dominican vacation home is "a notorious incarcerated felon" named Jorge de Castro Font.
The prosecution "fails to acknowledge that no witness or document, throughout its entire investigation, has ever accused Sen. Menendez of being in the presence of a prostitute, much less engaged in relations with one," the defense lawyers wrote. But they say prosecutors' repeated reference to those allegations "have garnered
widespread media coverage" and "have further prejudiced defendants' ability to get a fair trial."
Prosecutors wrote in August that Menendez's attempt to have the charges dismissed were "sensational" and "histrionic" and use the law and evidence carelessly. A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment further Thursday night.
Many of Menendez's filings Thursday amplify complaints he has previously raised. His lawyers argue that prosecutors gave the grand jury improper instructions and downplayed a constitutional provision protecting legislative acts from prosecution. They say prosecutors relied on hearsay before the grand jury and intimidated witnesses. And they accuse investigators of failing to ensure that the grand jury was not biased by news reports that Menendez's team says sprung from prosecutors' leaks.
Another filing refers to another local corruption case, against Philadelphia Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.). It says prosecutors filed vague charges against Menendez that fail to lay out a clear quid pro quo between the senator and Melgen. The defendants argue the indictment against Fattah was far more specific. Fattah has also declared his innocence.
"Defendants are not asking for the details about the wallpaper in the room when the alleged quid pro quo was negotiated," Menendez's lawyers wrote. "They are asking for the most basic details about the agreement itself – the where, when and what."
A hearing on Menendez and Melgen's motions to dismiss is scheduled for Sept. 17.