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A federal appeals court on Friday refused to toss a corruption case against U.S. Sen Bob Menendez of New Jersey, ruling that his argument that charges he accepted gifts in exchange for political influence should be tossed because of a constitutional clause protecting sitting lawmakers should be heard at trial.
 
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled against arguments from the indicted Democrat's attorneys that the senator's meetings with government officials were held to discuss policy matters, not to benefit a wealthy friend. Prosecutors allege the friend, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, plied Menendez with gifts and campaign donations in exchange for political influence. Both men have pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud charges.

Menendez's attorneys weren't immediately available to comment and it wasn't clear if they would appeal.

Appearing before the three-judge panel in February, Menendez's lawyer Abbe Lowell hammered at a lower court judge's ruling not to dismiss the charges by claiming the judge erred in looking at Menendez's purported motives for meetings he set up with several government officials.

The appeals court panel disagreed Friday and said that "the acts alleged in this case were essentially lobbying on behalf of a particular party and thus, under the specific circumstances here, are outside the constitutional safe harbor."

How a jury places Menendez's actions in the context of the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause will play a significant role in whether he is convicted on any of the dozen counts against him.

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