Question posed by Menendez trial: What is a constituent?

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend is raising an interesting question. What is a constituent?

Specifically, could Dr. Salomon Melgen, Menendez’s longtime friend and now co-defendant, be considered a constituent even though he lives in Florida and Menendez represents New Jersey?

How U.S. District Judge William Walls rules on that issue could affect whether jurors draw the inference that Melgen’s out-of-state residence supports the government’s theory that Menendez’s actions were motivated by alleged bribes, Menendez’s defense team has argued.

The Democrat is charged with accepting free luxury hotel stays and flights on Melgen’s private jet in exchange for lobbying for Melgen’s business interests with officials in the departments of state, health and homeland security.

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The trial is in its fifth week, with prosecutors presenting their case. Both sides touched on the constituent question in their opening statements last month, prompting Walls to order them to submit briefs recently.

Defense attorneys offered a malleable definition, based on geography but also on common interests and heritage.

“The evidence will show that petitioners across the country (especially those of Latino heritage) often approach the Senator for help with their problems, and that the Senator’s staffers try to help petitioners regardless of where they live,” they wrote. Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants, and Melgen is a native of the Dominican Republic.

Not surprisingly, prosecutors drew a different conclusion.

“The straightforward answer is that Senator Menendez’s constituents are the New Jerseyans that he was elected to represent in the United States Senate,” they wrote. They quoted passages from Menendez’s official website that referred to constituent services for “residents in New Jersey.”

The defense has…

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