The federal judge in the corruption trial against Democratic senator Robert Menendez (N.J.) announced on Monday that he was rejecting the defense's request to have charges dismissed, putting an end to a central argument put forth by his lawyers.
U.S. District Court Judge William Walls said before the trial began that he would make a determination on whether charges would be dismissed only after the prosecution presented its evidence against Menendez. Federal prosecutors rested their case last Wednesday after six weeks in court.
The prosecution argues that Menendez was showered with luxury gifts, travel, and campaign cash by Florida eye doctor Salomen Melgen and in exchange used his position to assist Melgen in many ways, including with his billings disputes with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Melgen was found guilty in April of Medicare fraud.
The defense had argued that the allegations against Menendez relied on "stream of benefits" theory, in which Menendez assisted Melgen "as opportunities arose" in exchange for Melgen's sustained support for Menendez. It said that the Supreme Court's ruling in the corruption case against former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell (R.) invalidated the theory, but Judge Walls disagreed.
"I see nothing in McDonnell that attacks the stream of benefits theory," Walls said in court on Monday, according to NBC News. "Payment may be made with intent to retain official services on an as-needed bases, so whenever the opportunity presents itself the official will take official action on behalf of the payer's benefit."
The ruling sets the stage for the case to enter the defense phase, in which lawyers for Menendez will have to defend him against 18 charges of corruption to the jury.
"The jury will decide what happened," Walls said. "That's why we're going to the jury."