Bob Menendez charges, explained

Sen. Bob Menendez

As jurors continue to deliberate in New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s bribery and corruption trial, CNN has assembled the highlights of the 10-week trial. Jurors heard from nearly 60 witnesses and were shown almost 300 pieces of evidence.

Jurors must determine under federal bribery law whether or not Menendez performed “official acts” by pressuring other officials to help Florida ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen. Both men deny all charges against them.

Here’s the highlights of the charges:

Official Act #1: Visas for Friends

What is the allegation?

Menendez allegedly used the power of his office to help international friends of Melgen’s get visas to visit the United States. In response Menendez’s attorneys say they were routine cases of the senator helping qualified people come to the United States.

Key evidence

An email from former Menendez staffer Marc Lopes to then-Menendez chief of staff Daniel O’Brien:

“Subj: Two people from the D.R. who wanted visas to visit Dr. Melgen got them. In my view this is only due to the fact that R.M. intervened.”

Key testimony

Menendez staffer Kerlyn Espinal told the jury that the visa support letters written by Menendez were based on a form letter and that Menendez’s office processed and issued around 1,000 such visa requests each year for people in New Jersey and beyond.

Official Act #2: The Dominican Port Security Contract

What is the allegation?

Through meetings and calls with top-level State Department officials, Menendez allegedly sought resolve a contractual dispute between Melgen and the Dominican Republic over cargo scanning equipment at the nation’s ports in his friend’s favor.

Key evidence

• An email describing that Melgen could be a “bull in the (US) Commerce Department’s china cabinet” given his political connections.

• An email in which Former Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield mentions that Menendez “threatened” a congressional hearing if the matter was not resolved.

• Email correspondence from May 12, 2012, showing Melgen’s representative agreeing to donate $60,000 to Menendez’s legal defense fund and the New Jersey Democratic State Committee — the same day that Menendez requested a meeting with Brownfield about Melgen’s cargo screening contract.

Key testimony

• Brownfield testified that he “wanted (the dispute) to go away.” The former State Department official also told the jury that “[his] understanding was Menendez wanted (the dispute) resolved in favor of the American company.”

• Commerce Department official Scott Smith told the jury that one of Melgen’s representatives had been “very aggressive and threatening” in a meeting with officials about the contract.

• Smith’s then-boss, Walter Bastian, former deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere at the Commerce Department, contradicted Smith’s testimony and denied that Melgen’s representative had been “aggressive.”

• Menendez’s son, Robert Menendez Jr., testified that his father had long had an interest in port security issues tracing back to 9/11. Other Menendez staffers vouched for this.

Official Act #3: US Scanning Equipment Donation to the Dominican Republic

What is the allegation?

Menendez is accused of attempting to intervene in a US Customs and Border Protection donation of cargo scanning equipment in order to protect Melgen’s business interests (given the doctor’s own port contract). The donation never came to pass.

Key evidence

• An email from Menendez staffer Kerri Talbot to CBP officials asking them to “hold off” on the donation until Menendez could be briefed.

• A receipt from a golf course showing that Menendez and Melgen had been golfing together the day before the email was sent.

Key testimony

• Stephanie Talton, a CBP official, told the jury that the request to “hold off” on the donation was “odd” and “somewhat unusual to have a senator or a member of congress to ask us to stop doing our law enforcement mission.”

• Talbot testified that she had a bad cell phone connection with Menendez when he requested that she look into it and testified that her email — which she said she intended to be a polite request — had been mischaracterized.

Official Act #4: Attempt to resolve Melgen’s $8.9 million billing dispute

What is the allegation?

When Melgen became embroiled in an $8.9 million billing dispute involving his ophthalmology practice and use of a specific drug, Lucentis, Menendez allegedly pressured Obama administration officials to change Medicare billing practices.

Key evidence

• Checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations by Melgen to a Democratic Super PAC earmarked for the New Jersey Senate race, which would have benefited Menendez.

• Menendez staffer Michael Barnard’s notes regarding a meeting he had with Melgen’s attorney about the overbilling issue. Some of his notes read: “ask: 1. Close case.” And “*perfect world drop charges”

• Barnard’s notes also heavily reference policy issues that Menendez’s team argues are at the heart of his interest in this topic.

Key testimony

• Then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described an “unusual” meeting with Menendez and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “I understood he wanted me to do something,” she told the jury.

• Jonathan Blum, former principal deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, described Menendez as having an “aggressive” tone during a phone call and the Sebelius meeting. “I found the tone to be very angry, very hostile,” Blum said of Menendez in the meeting. “I found that I was being put on the defensive and it was a very angry exchange.”

• Barnard, who focused on healthcare policy and worked on the matter, testified that the senator’s interest in the issue had to do with “conflicting, contradictory, ambiguous rules” surrounding the Lucentis issue.

By Sarah Jorgensen, CNN