Another Corrupt Democratic Senator – This Time the Feds Will Prosecute
According to CNN, New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez will soon be facing criminal charges of corruption for allegedly using his office to advance the business interests of one of his political donors. The network says Attorney General Eric Holder has authorized the request by prosecutors to proceed with charges. An announcement is expected within weeks, as prosecutors rush to file in advance of expiration of the statute of limitations on some of the allegations.
The case could pose a high-profile test of the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute sitting lawmakers, having already spawned a legal battle over whether key evidence the government has gathered is protected by the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause.
The FBI and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s public integrity section, have pursued a variety of allegations against Menendez, who has called the probe part of “smear campaign” against him.
The government’s case centers on Menendez’s relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who the senator has called a friend and political supporter. Melgen and his family have been generous donors to the senator and various committees the senator is associated with.
Investigators have focused in part on plane trips Menendez took in 2010 to the Dominican Republic as a guest of Melgen. In 2013, after word of the federal investigation became public, Menendez paid back Melgen $58,000 for the 2010 plane trips calling his failure to properly disclose the flights an “oversight.”
Menendez has denied any wrongdoing in his ties to Melgen.
“As we have said before, we believe all of Senator’s actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that,” Menendez spokesperson Tricia Enright said in a statement Friday. “Any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason.”
One of the highest ranking Hispanic members of Congress, Menendez is a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has become one of the Obama administration’s most vocal Democratic opponents on two key foreign policy matters — President Obama’s decision to ease the trade embargo against Cuba and also his effort to engage direct negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program.
When federal Medicare officials accused Melgen of overbilling, Menendez intervened on his behalf, according to court documents. Melgen was among the top recipients of Medicare reimbursements in recent years. Simultaneously, he was a major donor to Democratic candidates. The physician’s legal team deny any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors also believe Menendez may have broken the law by advocating on behalf of Melgen’s business interest in a proposed sale of port screening equipment to the government of the Dominican Republic. During the same period, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency was considering a donation of similar equipment to the D.R. The donation would have damaged the contract of the Melgen company.
Menendez brought up the issue of the contract during a Senate subcomittee hearing in 2012. He did not mention the company by name, but he discussed the contract and said the Dominican Republic government “don’t want to live by” the agreement. His office later attributed his remarks to his desire to combat narcotrafficking in the Caribbean.
The Justice Department is said to have investigated allegations Menendez solicited prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and the possibility he broke the law helping secure permanent U.S. residency for two Ecuadorian bankers.