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Judge issues stinging blow to Democrats in senator's corruption trial

Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his lawyers were denied three requests in his corruption trial that would have allowed him to attend upcoming key Senate votes. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

The judge in New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez's corruption trial denied multiple requests from the senator this week — a decision that could impede his ability to cast votes in the Senate and aid the Republicans' efforts to pass legislation on President Donald Trump's agenda.

Menendez's defense team made three requests Tuesday in the corruption trial. One request was to postpone trial on the days when the Senate would be holding key votes so that the senator could attend and deliver his vote. Another was to explain to the jury why the senator would be gone on those voting days. A third was to delay the start of the trial until after the fall.

U.S. District Court Judge William H. Walls denied all three requests.

This means that Menenez will have to choose between appearing in court or attending the Senate if key votes are scheduled and conflict with his case.

"The Republican majority in the Senate is razor thin right now, 52 Republicans," political analyst David Birdsell explained to Fox News, "a single vote makes it much more likely that you can pull off major legislative victories."

But some say that the judge may be in violation of the Constitution in dismissing the requests and making it more difficult for Menendez to vote in the Senate.

"The Constitution expressly protects members of Congress who are going to a legislative session from interference by anyone, by the courts or by the president," Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said. "So Judge Walls could no more constitutionally prevent Sen. Menendez from going to the Senate floor and voting than the Senate could prevent Judge Walls from going to his courtroom and presiding."

Fox News' Doug McKelway reported that a further complication for Menendez is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could schedule votes in the Senate at a whim. This could end up helping Menendez attend and vote or hinder him completely.

Judge Walls has a reputation for being tough on corrupt politicians.

"We, the people of the United States, are sick and tired of political and public officials being on the take," he said in an unrelated trial in 2015.

Menendez faces 12 charges relating to accusations that he traded political favors for lavish gifts. He could face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted on all 12 charges. In addition, if Menendez is forced to abandon his Senate seat, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie would appoint his replacement, giving the GOP another vote.

The senator's lawyers did not respond to Fox News' request for comment about whether Menendez would stay in court or leave to vote in the Senate.

The opening arguments for Menendez' corruption trial are set begin Sept. 6, just one day after Congress returns to session.

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