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FBI taped Menendez dining with Egyptians at Morton’s Steakhouse

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., attends a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill March 10, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Jurors at the corruption trial of Senator Bob Menendez watched a secret FBI video recording of the New Jersey Democrat dining, laughing and pouring wine at a Washington steakhouse with his then-girlfriend and three Egyptian men.

The mood was upbeat, an FBI surveillance specialist testified Tuesday at the trial in New York federal court. At the 2019 dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse, the agent sat a few feet away and posed as the wife of a colleague, who secretly took photos and made a grainy video. The conversation was hard to hear but one bit stood out from Nadine Arslanian, who Menendez would marry a year later.

“She asked, ‘What else can the love of my life do for you?”’ Terrie Williams-Thompson, an FBI investigative specialist, told jurors.

Menendez, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is accused of taking 13 gold bars, $480,000 in cash and a Mercedes Benz in bribes in exchange for favors he did for Wael Hana, one of the men at the dinner, and two other businessmen. Menendez, 70, is also charged with acting an agent of the Egyptian government and other crimes.

Prosecutors say the senator attended the May 21, 2019, meal with Hana, an Egyptian American, an Egyptian intelligence official and Arslanian. The testimony came a day after Menendez, who has pleaded not guilty, said he will run for reelection in November as an independent.

The testimony by Williams-Thompson and another surveillance expert gave jurors a sense of how widespread the FBI investigation was four years before the indictment of Menendez, Hana, and another businessman, Fred Daibes. His wife, who now goes by Nadine Menendez, has cancer and will be tried separately.

Jurors have seen text messages and emails showing that Menendez and his wife arranged several meetings with Egyptian officials in restaurants, where prosecutors say they discussed military financing and weapons sales to Egypt.

The indictment said the Morton’s dinner discussion included “various matters of foreign policy” and the Egyptian monopoly that Hana had received to certify U.S. meat exports as compliant with halal standards. The U.S. Department of Agriculture raised objections with the Egyptian government about an abrupt change in policy that benefited Hana’s company.

‘Laughing,’ ‘smoking’

“They were eating, they were talking, they were laughing, they were smoking,” Williams-Thompson said.

After the dinner, Hana gave Arslanian materials about the USDA objections, and she sent them to Menendez, according to the indictment. Jurors heard earlier from a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official who said Menendez told him in 2019 to “stop interfering” with a constituent over the meat inspection certifications.

In her testimony on Tuesday, Williams-Thompson said she follows subjects to understand their “pattern of life,” saying she may watch them surreptitiously in restaurants, school, church, or on a golf course. She was on one of two teams of surveillance specialists who watched Morton’s that night.

She said she didn’t know the subject of the surveillance, but it wasn’t Menendez.

“Our goal was to find out who the subject was meeting with and to take pictures,” Williams-Thompson said.

Menendez attorney Adam Fee questioned Williams-Thompson about how she memorialized the Arslanian comment about the “love of her life.” She said she gave it to an FBI employee who kept a log of the surveillance results.

Jurors also heard from FBI agent Chase Hunter Mills, who took photos outside the restaurant after the dinner. Menendez left separately, but Mills got photos of the other four leaving.

In his questioning, Fee asked if one of the people at the dinner was Ahmed Helmy, who was described in earlier testimony as an Egyptian intelligence official in Washington. Mills said he didn’t know.


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