Prosecutors Say Messages Between Sen. Menendez, Wife Reveal Details Of Egypt-Focused Scheme

Dana DiFilippo, New Jersey Monitor

In texts, emails, and voicemails, Nadine Arslanian gushed like a smitten teenager soon after she began dating Sen. Bob Menendez in 2018, addressing him as “mon amour,” “love of my life,” and “my very handsome senator.”

She followed those sweet nothings with requests that ran far outside the normal romantic chitchat of new relationships, asking the senator to set up unofficial meetings with Egyptian military leaders to discuss security issues, divulge details about staffing at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and share information about U.S. military aid temporarily withheld from Egypt over human rights abuses.

The third week of Menendez’s bribery trial began in Manhattan Tuesday with prosecutor Paul Monteleoni and FBI Special Agent Michael Coughlin painstakingly presenting almost four hours of messages to show how Nadine, who married the senator in October 2020, served as an intermediary in schemes that prompted prosecutors to indict Menendez for acting as a foreign agent. In one voicemail Monteleoni played for jurors, she asked the senator to meet an Egyptian official at his embassy.

“Hi, it’s me, calling my very handsome senator,” Nadine crooned. “I have a thing to ask you.”

In many instances, after communicating with Menendez, Nadine passed along his responses — often verbatim and within minutes — to her longtime friend Wael Hana, the Egyptian-American businessman who prosecutors say fed the information to Egyptian officials in a ploy to secure a monopoly on halal meat exports there.

In one text exchange, Nadine handed her phone to attorney Andy Aslanian, who worked for Egypt’s ministry of defense in Washington, D.C., so that he could text directly with Menendez to arrange a meeting. Other texts show communications to set up meetings between Menendez and Egyptian Major General Khaled Ahmed Shawky Osman, defense, army, naval, and air force attache to the U.S. and Canada.

Another email from Menendez’s personal Gmail showed a ghost-written letter — with the opening and closing salutations left blank — that prosecutors say Menendez drafted for Egyptian officials. The missive was meant to persuade American senators who were concerned about Egypt’s worsening human rights record to lift a hold on U.S. military aid to Egypt.

Most of the messaging unfolded in secret — on the couple’s private Gmail accounts and encrypted apps like Viber and WhatsApp.

But Menendez sometimes looped in his Senate staff, asking one to find out how many Americans and Egyptians worked at the U.S. embassy in Cairo. At least one exchange hinted the staff had qualms about the query.

“Any idea how many Americans are posted to the embassy? Don’t ask why I’m asking…,” a Senate staffer wrote to a Department of State employee.

The Egypt allegations are arguably the most seismic of federal prosecutors’ accusations in a wide-ranging indictment filed last fall against Sen. Menendez, Nadine Menendez, Hana, and businessmen Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe. Hana, Daibes, and Uribe are accused of plying New Jersey’s senior senator and his wife with gold bars, almost $500,000 in cash, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, and other bribes for various favors. Menendez, a Democrat who has held the Senate seat since 2006, has denied wrongdoing and said he stashed cash to cope with the traumas of his father’s suicide and his family’s experience as refugees forced to flee Cuba with nothing.

Uribe pleaded guilty in March and is expected to testify against the couple. Nadine’s trial has been postponed until at least July as she battles breast cancer.

Behind schedule

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein Tuesday that they are “slightly behind schedule” on a trial expected to last until July.

Tuesday got off to a bad start, with Stein booting testimony back to early afternoon because one juror — recovering from a weekend injury — couldn’t get to the Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse until then.

Stein did not rule on a request prosecutors filed over the weekend asking him to reconsider his decision late Friday that bars them from introducing texts they say most explicitly show the “corrupt expectations” that Hana, Nadine, and Egyptian officials had.

In one, Nadine sent Hana an article about pending arms sales and wrote: “Bob had to sign off on this.” In another, an Egyptian official asked Hana if Menendez held up $1 billion of U.S. aid to Egypt.

Defense attorneys had argued such communications should be excluded because they pertain to official legislative acts, and the Constitution’s speech and debate clause protects legislators from being held liable for their official legislative actions.

But during an argument last Tuesday after Stein had dismissed jurors for the holiday break, Monteleoni countered the clause “is also not designed to make members of Congress super-citizens immune from all criminal responsibility.” The messages also were sent and received by third parties communicating about their “corrupt agreement,” rather than the senator’s acts themselves, he added.

Stein told both sides Tuesday he is still considering the matter.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence T. McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

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