Defense witnesses tilt story in Menendez’s favor

One of the main allegations against Sen. Menendez is that he went to bat for his friend Salomon Melgen over a port security contract in the Dominican Republic. Melgen bought into a company that had a contract to screen all cargo there, but the U.S. government was planning to send surplus screening equipment to the Dominican Republican government. That would have cut out Melgen and cost him millions.

In 2013, the New York Times reported Menendez discouraged giving port security equipment to the Dominicans. Prosectors say he did it in return for bribes. The defense Monday called William Brownfield to the stand. He was assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and met with Menendez several times. The meetings, said Brownfield, involved drug smuggling through the Dominican Republic.

“Was Sen. Menendez interested in Caribbean security issues?” asked defense attorney Abbe Lowell.

“He was one of the top two in the Senate interested in the region,” replied Brownfield.

The Melgen contract dispute was not mentioned in Brownfield’s testimony Monday, but perhaps the prosecution will bring it up Tuesday on cross-examination.

Four other witnesses testified for the defense Monday. Autism Activist Kerry Magro called Menendez a champion.

“He has been one of the most honest and trustworthy people I’ve ever met in my life,” Magro said.

Kerry Talbot was Menendez’s immigration expert for years. She testified there was “no coordinated effort” on behalf of Melgen, despite what the New York Times reported. Kerlyn Espinal is Menendez’s director of immigration services. She testified Menendez has helped thousands of people get visas, not just the three of Melgen’s girlfriends the prosecution focused on.

Raul Alarcon, president of Spanish Broadcasting System, testified he gave $100,000 to a Democratic PAC to help Menendez get re-elected in 2012. Melgen gave $600,000 to the same PAC.

“Did anyone condition that payment on a bribe?” Lowell asked Alarcon.

“Absolutely not,” replied Alarcon.

This is the second week of defense testimony. During legal skirmishing between the sides, Judge William Walls shout out, “When you get to Philadelphia, you can bring that up.”

Philadelphia is where the federal appeals court sits. It was a signal the judge expects an appeal regardless of who wins the trial.