U.S. Senator Bob Menendez grew emotional as he headed into a New Jersey courthouse on the first day of his corruption trial tellings supporters, ''not once have I dishonored my public office.'' Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) U.S. Senator Bob Menendez grew emotional as he headed into a New Jersey courthouse on the first day of his corruption trial tellings supporters, "not once have I dishonored my public office." Menendez goes on trial in federal court on Wednesday for bribery, in a case whose outcome could have an outsized impact on a divided Congress in Washington, D.C. The New Jersey senator is accused of intervening with federal officials on behalf of a wealthy benefactor in exchange for lavish gifts, including luxury vacations and major political contributions. If Menendez is convicted and either resigns or is expelled by his colleagues before January, his replacement would be named by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump. That would give Republicans, who hold a razor-thin 52-48 edge in the Senate, another vote just months after their attempt to repeal the Obamacare healthcare law failed by a single vote. The case is also a high-profile test of the ability of federal prosecutors to go after elected officials for bribery, after the U.S. Supreme Court last year narrowed the grounds for such charges. Opening statements were scheduled for Wednesday in Newark, New Jersey, and the trial is expected to last up to two months. As he entered the court on Wednesday morning, Menendez, 63, told reporters he had "never backed away from a fight," as a group of supporters cheered his arrival. While waiting in the security line inside, he posed for a photo with a woman in a wheelchair. Menendez, who has served in the Senate since 2006, is running for reelection in 2018 despite the 12-count corruption indictment. The case centers on the relationship between Menendez and his co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who gave him private flights, expensive vacations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to his campaigns. Prosecutors say those gifts were actually bribes to persuade Menendez to press Melgen's interests in Washington. The senator met with Medicare's top administrator, as well as a member of the cabinet, in an effort to get Medicare's reimbursement policy changed so Melgen could avoid paying millions of dollars the agency said he owed, according to the charges. Menendez also enlisted the State Department to try to resolve a dispute between one of Melgen's companies and the Dominican Republic. Menendez's lawyers plan to argue that Melgen's gifts were just a result of the pair's close friendship, and that any actions the senator took were based on legitimate policy concerns. Melgen, 63, was convicted earlier this year of perpetrating a massive Medicare fraud. His sentencing has been postponed until after the New Jersey trial.