Menendez jurors' first question: What's a senator?

Menendez Trial
Sen. Bob Menendez arrives at the federal courthouse in Newark in this September file photo. The jury weighing his corruption case will continue its deliberations Wednesday.

The federal jury weighing Sen. Bob Menendez’s fate deliberated quietly for six hours Tuesday, emerging only to ask a question – one that struck observers as odd.

Can you define a senator? the panel of seven women and five men asked U.S. District Judge William H. Walls. Walls opted not to give the jurors the answer they sought — and also denied their request to have portions of the defense’s closing arguments read back to them. Instead the judge instructed jurors to rely on their memories of earlier court proceedings and reminded them that what the lawyers said was not evidence in the case.

For his part, Menendez, too, spent most of the first full day of deliberations cloistered behind closed doors. He emerged briefly toward the end of the day to chat with a crowd of supporters in the courtroom.

The New Jersey Democrat has denied allegations that he accepted lavish gifts including free flights and luxurious hotel stays from a Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, in exchange for pressuring federal officials to make policy decisions on his benefactor’s behalf.

Menendez has argued that the gifts were nothing more than exchanges between friends and that his advocacy was based on sound policy views, even if it was Melgen who brought the issues to the senator’s attention.

The jury is expected to resume deliberations Wednesday.