"That’s one thing that makes this case interesting: It asks the existential question as to when friendship ends and corruption begins." So says a former federal prosecutor of the corruption trial, which is kicking off Wednesday, of Sen. Robert Menendez. The 63-year-old New Jersey Democrat is the first senator to face bribery charges in almost four decades, relating to political donations and free vacations from a Florida eye doctor, reports the New York Times. Menendez's lawyers say the gifts were simply given by Salomon Melgen to his close friend of more than 20 years. But prosecutors argue that Menendez returned the favors by urging the Department of Health and Human Services to abandon its claim that Melgen defrauded Medicare of $9 million and pressing the State Department to approve visas for Melgen's girlfriends, reports NBC News.
Prosecutors say Menendez twice met with officials who could placate Melgen's personal and business concerns on the very day that Melgen donated to super PACs supporting Menendez. But his lawyers say Menendez was only acting on his policy views to help a political supporter. The trial could last up to two months. If convicted, Menendez would likely face calls to resign, though he would be expected to delay his resignation until New Jersey's next governor—likely to be a Democrat, according to polls—takes office in January. If he resigns before January, Gov. Chris Christie would get to appoint a Republican in his place, giving Republicans a much-needed boost in their quest to pass new health care legislation, per the Los Angeles Times. (Read more Robert Menendez stories.)