The hawkish Democratic senator is accused of receiving lavish trips and political donations from a wealthy friend in exchange for political favors.
Calls for the resignation of embattled U.S. Senator Robert Menendez grew louder over the weekend as several editorials and columnists stated that the Democratic politician should step down in light of the serious corruption charges he faces.
The New Jersey senator is facing 14 charges, ranging from fraud to bribery, for having offered political favors to one of his donors and personal friends, Salomon Melgen, in exchange for expensive gifts and donations to his political campaigns.
The indictment filed with the court lists a long series of allegations, which suggest that the senator knowingly failed to disclose gifts from Melgen, including luxury trips on private planes to resorts in the Dominican Republic. Menendez is accused of helping promote Melgen’s business interests, such as lobbying the U.S. State Department to push for a lucrative contract involving port security with the government of the Dominican Republic.
Menendez is also accused of intervening in favor of Melgen in a 2009 case where federal officials alleged that Melgen overbilled the U.S. Medicare system, which serves seniors and people with disabilities, by nearly US$9 million. According to 2012 billing information, Melgen is the highest reimbursed physician in the U.S., earning US$20.8 million for treating 894 patients.
Menendez denied the charges and held a bombastic press conference where he said he would not resign. Menendez has argued that he was merely doing constituency work for a personal friend. He accused the investigation of being driven by those with a “political motive.”
Although none of the allegations have been proven in court yet, there is strong evidence of wrongdoing by Menendez. In response to Menedez’s intransigence in the face of the serious charges, several prominent newspapers have called on the senator to resign, arguing that the case against him will serve as a distraction from his duties in Washington.
The influential New York Times, which ran an expose on the preferential treatment given by Menendez to the fugitive Isaias brothers from Ecuador, called for Menendez to step down Friday.
“He would be doing a disservice to New Jersey by clinging to power as a disgraced politician. His colleagues in the Senate should demand that he step aside,” stated the Times editorial board.
The Star-Ledger, from Menendez’s home state of New Jersey, also called on the senator to resign, writing, “U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez now begins a fight for his political life that could last for years. New Jersey would be better off if he would resign and conduct that battle on his own time.”
The Democratic senator is at odds with President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and has also been vocal in his opposition to a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Menendez, who is of Cuban descent, is a staunch supporter of unilateral sanctions against Venezuela.
Menendez was the top-ranking Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but stepped down from that post as a result of the indictment.