Sen. Bob Menendez "sold his office for a lifestyle he couldn't afford" by accepting luxury trips and other favors from a wealthy doctor seeking political influence, a government prosecutor told jurors Wednesday during opening statements of the Democrat's corruption trial. Menendez's attorney responded that gifts from Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, Menendez's longtime friend, didn't equate to a bribery agreement, the AP reports. Menendez's meetings with government officials—though they could have aided Melgen's business interests—were "what members of Congress do" and were meant to influence future policy, attorney Abbe Lowell said, displaying a chart that showed alleged bribes by Melgen in 2006 but no alleged official acts by Menendez, and vice versa in 2009. "A bribery case is not a mix-and-match event," he said.
Before court began, Menendez, who faces multiple fraud and bribery charges, said: "Not once have I dishonored my public office." But during the government's opening statement, Justice Department attorney Peter Koski described Menendez pressuring government officials to help Melgen secure visas for his foreign girlfriends, as well as intervening in a lucrative port security contract in the Dominican Republic and a multimillion-dollar Medicare dispute. Melgen also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Menendez's legal defense fund and entities that supported his 2012 re-election, Koski said. Menendez "went to bat when Dr. Melgen asked, and Dr. Melgen asked frequently," said Koski. "There's no friendship exception to bribery. There's no friendship exception to breaking the law."