CNN is reporting that Menendez, New Jersey’s senior Senator, and the former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will face federal criminal corruption charges for allegedly using his Senate office to promote the business interests of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist.
Under a headline reading, “Menendez Expected to Face Federal Corruption Charges,” the New York Times indicates that federal prosecutors are focused on gifts Mr. Menendez received from Dr. Melgen in exchange for official acts.
Charges could be filed within a matter of weeks.
Evidence of his problems surfaced in 2013 when Menendez had to pay back $58,000 for free trips to the Dominican Republic he’d taken on Melgen’s plane. Later, there were charges of impropriety after the Senator defended Melgen against Medicare’s accusations that he had overbilled for services in his eye care practice, and helped Melgen who sought a port screening security contract in the Dominican Republic.
“In the past,” as the National Journal reported this afternoon, “Menendez has denied any wrongdoing.” On occasions, he has blamed Cuban intelligence agents for pushing the allegations against him, and called the Justice Department probe a part of their smear campaign, as The Daily News remembered today.
But, the New Jersey Advance reported last week, “a current aide and a former counsel” to Senator Menendez filed an appeal to a federal district court order that they testify before a grand jury looking into the Senator’s conduct. This afternoon, a spokeswoman for Menendez said in a statement carried by the Washington Post, “we believe all of the Senator’s actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that.”
Senate seats in New Jersey are not without controversy. On May 1, 1981, the late Senator Harrison “Pete” Williams was convicted on nine counts of bribery and conspiracy for promising to use his office to further a business venture, as the New York Times reported.
Two decades later, Senator Bob Torricelli, also a New Jersey Democrat, withdrew from his 2002 reelection campaign after being “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting gifts from a donor in exchange for having intervened on his behalf in overseas business deals (earlier, a yearlong Justice Department investigation ended without charges being filed).
Torricelli was the primary author of the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which codified and strengthened sanctions against Cuba, barred ships that dock in Cuba from landing at U.S. ports for six months, and prohibited foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba.
Menendez has been a fierce critic of U.S. policy toward Cuba under President Obama. In response to the deal struck between the two countries to resume diplomatic relations, he said Obama had “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government” and would “invite further belligerence” toward human rights and democracy advocates.”
Writing for the editorial page of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger newspaper, Tom Moran observed, “Menendez has been a thorn in President Obama’s side of late, opposing him on Iran and Cuba. Now, it seems, he will be busy for a while defending his own neck.”