Key witness at bribery trial of Sen. Bob Menendez faces grueling day of cross-examination

 NEW YORK (AP) — The prosecution’s prized turncoat witness at the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez was politely combative Tuesday as defense lawyers tried to poke holes in his testimony and portray him as a habitual liar. Jose Uribe spent a third day on the witness stand, a day after telling the jury [[{“value”:”

NEW YORK (AP) — The prosecution’s prized turncoat witness at the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez was politely combative Tuesday as defense lawyers tried to poke holes in his testimony and portray him as a habitual liar.

Jose Uribe spent a third day on the witness stand, a day after telling the jury that Menendez, a Democrat, took credit in 2020 for preventing New Jersey state investigations from affecting his insurance business.

Prosecutors say Menendez used his power as a senator to help three New Jersey businessmen for five years beginning in 2018 in return for bribes of gold bars, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and a Mercedes-Benz.

Menendez, 70, has looked forward to the cross-examination, saying on separate occasions as he left the courthouse in recent days that the truth would come out when defense lawyers went to work against Uribe.

Defense lawyers tried repeatedly to damage Uribe’s credibility, highlighting crimes that Uribe confessed to when he pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy and bribery charges. At that time, he agreed to testify against Menendez and two other businessmen, all of whom had pleaded not guilty prior to the month-old trial.

Attorney Lawrence Lustberg, representing businessman Wael Hana, repeatedly confronted Uribe with lies he had told to protect and build his insurance companies, even after a previous criminal conviction meant that he was no longer licensed to run a company.

“I will say that I have lied in the past,” Uribe said.

Even as Lustberg and attorney Adam Fee, representing Menendez, sometimes raised their voices when they asked questions, Uribe kept his composure while deflecting some questions and disputing claims by Fee that he had lied on the witness stand on Friday and Monday.

“No, I did not, sir,” Uribe said.

Sometimes, the lawyers seemed to succeed in getting answers from Menendez that differed from his earlier testimony.

For instance, Uribe told a prosecutor on Monday that he was hoping to avoid any prison time as a result of his cooperation. But, asked repeatedly on Tuesday by Lustberg about the goal of his testimony and work on behalf of the government, he said he merely wanted to ensure he got less than the 95 years in prison the charges could bring.

Even Judge Sidney H. Stein, who would likely sentence Uribe at a future date, jumped into the questioning about what Uribe hoped to obtain from admitting to crimes and cooperating.

“My goal is to do better for myself by getting a better sentencing,” Uribe responded.

During a break with the jury out of the room, the judge told defense lawyers he would not let them ask Uribe about a car accident, his failure to pay child support for a period of time, his history as it relates to what the judge described only as “strip clubs” and his failure to pay some credit card bills 14 years ago.

Lustberg said he wanted to use the information about “strip clubs” to counter Uribe’s portrayal of himself as “like a choir boy.”

“With all the crimes he’s pled to, I don’t think that’s really your issue,” the judge responded.

Lustberg also argued that Uribe’s failure to pay child support at one point would show jurors that his repeated claims that he was devoted to his family were not always true.

Uribe has testified that he provided a $15,000 down payment in 2019 for a Mercedes-Benz for Menendez’s girlfriend and arranged monthly car payments from 2019 to 2022 in return for Menendez’s efforts to ensure his company was not affected by New Jersey criminal probes of a trucking company belonging to his friend.

He said Hana had told him that Menendez could help make legal problems go away in return for $200,000 to $250,000. Uribe said Tuesday that he never contributed any money to the $120,000 that others eventually paid Menendez.

Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press

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