Menendez seeking Musto testimony. Kean has demanded release of transcripts

Menendez seeking Musto testimony
Kean has demanded release of transcripts

06/21/06 Star-Ledger
Responding to a challenge by his Republican opponent, Sen. Robert Menendez yesterday took a first step toward making public the grand jury testimony he gave 25 years ago in the federal corruption case against former Union City Mayor William Musto.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, a lawyer for Menendez asked Christie to advise him how to go about getting a copy of the transcripts of the testimony. The Menendez campaign provided The Star-Ledger with a copy of the letter, dated yesterday.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, said late yesterday that Christie had not yet received any correspondence from Menendez and that he could not comment on the substance of the request.

Drewniak also declined to say whether grand jury testimony -- which is given in secret -- can be made public at the request of the witness, or whether copies of the transcript still exist 25 years after the testimony was given.

The letter to Christie, written by Angelo Genova, legal counsel to the Menendez campaign, does not mention making the transcripts public. But aides to Menendez said that if they can be obtained, they will be made available.

"Yes, absolutely," campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said. "As long as the testimony still exists and assuming our request is suffi cient, we're more than happy for the New Jersey public to see how Bob Menendez helped put a cor rupt politician in jail."

The letter is in direct response to a challenge from Menendez's op ponent, Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union).

Kean held a news conference Saturday at the federal courthouse in Newark, where Musto and six others were convicted of skimming construction money from the Union City Board of Education through a construction firm with mob connections. Menendez, who was the school board secretary, ap peared 12 times before the grand jury that handed up the indictments, Kean said.

He challenged Menendez to make public the transcripts of his testimony against Musto, whom Menendez has described as his former mentor and friend.

"Now that Bob Menendez has tried to make ethics a campaign issue and made his history a part of the campaign, the voters of New Jersey deserve to know what is in his testimony," Kean said.

The Menendez campaign yesterday issued a news release that called on Kean to stop his "sleazy attacks run straight out of the Bush campaign playbook."

It also sought to blunt Kean's criticisms with a quote by former Assistant U.S. Attorney James Plaisted, the lead prosecutor in the Musto case, praising Menendez, who also testified against Musto at trial.

"Twenty-four years ago, Bob Menendez was a very important witness for the United States and courageously testified against a political machine," said Plaisted, now a member of the Roseland law firm Walder Hayden & Brogan. "No amount of political rhetoric can rewrite the history of how Bob Me nendez stood up and demonstrated a commitment to cleaning up corruption."

Contacted by e-mail, Plaisted confirmed the accuracy of the quote, but did not respond to further questions.

Aides to Kean dismissed Plaisted's comments.

"How does the fact that Menen dez was subpoenaed make him courageous?" spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said.

Meanwhile, the Kean campaign made a full circle yesterday over participating in a live TV debate scheduled for Monday.

Early in the day, Kean asked NJN public broadcasting to postpone the debate because of the po tential for conflict with a state Senate voting session scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday. Kean said a vote in the Senate takes priority, especially with the state budget having to be enacted by June 30.

The Menendez camp immediately accused Kean of backing out of his commitment, calling it "the latest example of his tendency to cut and run rather than stand accountable."

Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) then issued a statement saying it's not likely that the Senate will stay late, but he would be glad to suspend any votes on the budget while Kean is debating.

Kean then said he would take part in the debate Monday night, unless there is a budget vote.

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