New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez Indicted On Corruption Charges

As expected, New Jersey's senior Senator has been indicted.

Bob Menendez

As anticipated in reports that leaked earlier this month, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez has been indicted on corruption charges related to his long relationship with a Florida ophthalmologist:

WASHINGTON — Senator Robert Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges on Wednesday, setting the stage for a bitter court fight and putting his political future in doubt.

Mr. Menendez was charged with eight counts of bribery, which carry up to 15 years in prison on each charge. He was also charged with conspiracy, fraud, and making false statements on government documents, the Justice Department said.

Mr. Menendez is the first senator to face federal bribery charges since another New Jersey Democrat, Harrison A. Williams Jr., was indicted in 1980 in the Abscam scandal.

The charges had long been expected and Mr. Menendez, a 61-year-old Democrat of New Jersey, has promised to fight them. He has offered no indication that he plans to step down or relinquish any power while he goes through that process.

The case involves Mr. Menendez’s longtime friendship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye surgeon and political benefactor. The two men became friends in the 1990s and have spent holidays together in the Dominican Republic, where Dr. Melgen, 60, has a home in the gated oceanfront resort of Casa de Campo.

Prosecutors say Dr. Melgen lavished the senator with gifts, including two round-trip flights worth $58,000 aboard his private jet. In turn, prosecutors say that Mr. Menendez used his Senate seat to help Dr. Melgen when he, as a member of the Finance Committee, encouraged the Obama administration to change the Medicare reimbursement policy in a way that would make millions for the doctor.

Dr. Melgen was indicted on the same charges, in what Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, said was “a bribery scheme” in which Mr. Menendez used his Senate office to benefit Dr. Melgen.

Mr. Menendez said the Medicare debate was a legitimate policy discussion, not a personal favor. The Finance Committee oversees Medicare finances. He said the gifts he received from Dr. Melgen should be reviewed in the context of their long friendship.

Mr. Menendez is the 12th sitting senator to be indicted, the 11th on federal charges. The last was Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who was convicted in 2008. The Justice Department later dismissed the case, acknowledging that it had withheld key evidence, but not before Mr. Stevens lost his Senate seat in a close election.

Mr. Menendez is the highest-profile target for the Justice Department’s corruption unit since that embarrassment. But the unit, which once had a reputation for negotiating guilty pleas and avoiding trials in big cases, has been overhauled in recent years with a focus on winning in court if tested. Mr. Menendez has assembled an expensive and experienced legal team that will provide that test.

Reading the indictment, it’s unclear exactly what it is that Menendez is supposed to have done that was against the law. Even read in the most negative light possible, they seem to allege that Meglen was a donor to Menendez’s campaign and that Menendez assisted him with matters before the government. In that respect, it’s not entirely dissimilar from the indictment that was issued against former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. While McDonnell was ultimately convicted of most of the charges against him, the conviction is presently under appeal and there are legal scholars on both sides of the aisle who have argued that the indictment against McDonnell was a classic example of overreach by Federal prosecutors. Unless the Justice Department has evidence not clearly spelled out in the indictment, I’m uncertain that this is a case worth pursuing.

From here, of course, the case proceeds down the same track that every other Federal criminal case will. In the coming days, Menendez will appear in Court, be formally charged, and enter the expected not guilty plea to the charges. After the the case will proceed forward toward an eventual trial, which could occur relatively soon given Federal speedy trial rules or could be delayed as both sides request continuances in order to prepare for trial. Menendez could eventually enter into a plea agreement of some kind, of course, but given the defiant tone he has generally taken toward the entire investigation, that seems unlikely. It’s also possible that prosecutors may seek to reach a plea deal with Dr. Melgen in order to secure his testimony for a trial against Menendez, but that may depend on how much confidence they have in their underlying case against Menendez.

Of course, this won’t be any ordinary criminal proceeding given the fact that Menendez is a sitting United States Senator. At the very least, early reports this evening are indicating that he will step aside from his position as Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while the charges are pending, but that may not be the end of the matter. With Republicans in control of the Senate, the possibility of this matter being referred to the Senate Ethics Committee should not be discounted. Additionally, one suspects that there will be at least some pressure on Menendez to resign from his seat, and while he has made clear that he has no intention of doing that we’re likely to see Republicans put pressure on him. The question then will be just how much his fellow Democrats want to rally to his side, or whether they end up letting him stand alone. In any case, this will be the biggest Federal corruption trial since the Ted Stevens debacle, and we all know how that ended.

Here’s the indictment:

Menendez Melgen Indictment by Doug Mataconis

FILED UNDER: Congress, Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Someone asked me the other day what illness had enabled me to get a medical marijuana card and I said, “I’m 60, there’s gotta be something wrong with me.” On essentially those grounds I support indicting Menendez: “He’s a Senator from New Jersey, he has to have done something illegal.”

  2. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: I feel that way about our politicians here in Chicago.

    (I’m still chuckling about the comment made by Blago’s first lawyer, just before he was fired by Blago: “I don’t insist that my clients TAKE my advice, but I do think they should at least LISTEN to it!”)

  3. Ken says:

    Personally, I want to know what effect this will have on the incipient One Party State

  4. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I haven’t delved too deeply into the specifics, but based on what I have seen the indictment seems warranted.

  5. Tillman says:

    Unless the Justice Department has evidence not clearly spelled out in the indictment, I’m uncertain that this is a case worth pursuing.

    Oh they probably do. Recall how many scandals Menendez was supposedly involved in within the last couple of years (I can think of at least two, maybe three off the top of my head). The fact that this one has stuck this far is fairly good evidence by itself, even if the legal world is correct in noticing federal overreach. Keep in mind that’s the same argument conservatives use about every new Obama scandal though. 🙂

    I don’t know, my assessment’s only grounded in cultural biases. “He’s a Senator from New Jersey, he has to have done something illegal.”

  6. PJ says:

    @Ken:

    Personally, I want to know what effect this will have on the incipient One Party State

    Clearly Obama is doing a purge to get rid of those who refuses to swear his secret oath of loyalty before the executive order that will bring on the One Party State.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    OT, but has anyone been following the “Sodomite Suppression” saga?

    The usual suspects have taken the usual sides on the matter, but I’m really scratching my head at those who think that this guy is just trolling to show how easy it is to get bizarre things on the California ballot. (Some of the other stuff he’s been involved with point towards this guy being a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket.) Since this guy is a lawyer, isn’t something like this a good way to get yourself disbarred? (Doug, can you comment on this?)

    The only answer I can come up with is this critter has watched Orly Taitz’s shenanigans and figured, hell, if the California Bar isn’t going to do anything to THAT ditz, I can probably do what I want.

  8. David M says:

    New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez Indicted On Corruption Charges

    Someone should have told Menendez that people already believed he was from New Jersey, he didn’t really need to go out and prove it.

  9. Tillman says:

    @PJ: @Ken: speaking of the one-party state, there’re signs of conflict in the politburo.

  10. YVONNE says:

    He must be a Republican!!!!!! They are all Thieves

  11. Gustopher says:

    Suspicious that he would be indicted now, when something something something. Clearly this is Obama being the most corrupt president ever.

  12. James P says:

    Even liberals should see this as dangerous. IT establishes a horrible precedent.

    This is one million times worse than anything Nixon ever thought of doing. Chuck Shumer is going wobbly on the Iran deal – will he be indicted next?

    This indictment is the equivalent of a dead horse’s head in the bed of all other Dems. The message/threat from Barry is don’t cross me or you’ll wind up like Menendez.

    We are being governed by a mafia don – this is Chicago style politics at its most corrupt.

    LIbs should think to themselves that if BHO gets away with this thuggery any Republican president can start indicting his or her opponents in the future. Is that really where you want to go with this?

  13. MarkedMan says:

    Mendez should get a fair hearing. But anything that cuts corruption out of the system is a net positive.

  14. Gustopher says:

    Aha! I’ve got it! They have been threatening to indict him for a while, but as soon as he says he will vote for Loretta Lynch, Holder’s DOJ comes down on him like a box of hammers!

    Holder doesn’t really want to leave the DOJ. The resignation is a sham — have we seen the resignation letter? The original? In the long form? Of course not.

    More of Obama’s Chicago-style Saul-Alinsky-inspired politics. The most corrupt administration ever.

  15. Andre Kenji says:
  16. superdestroyer says:

    @Ken:

    Considering that if Menendez is not indicted and tried, he will stay in office and if he is found guilty, he will be replaced by an even more liberal Democrat, I would say that the situation shows what the one party state will look like in the future.

    The behavior of Senator Menendez, his possibly leaving office early, and who will replace him will have zero impact on policy, governance, or legislation and the U.S. And one point of moving the U.S. to a dominant party model is to make elections irrelevant.

  17. Guarneri says:

    The poor bastard is a terrible strategist. Had he only worked for the IRS, or wiped his server clean of emails he’d be free as a bird and playing golf right now.

  18. Nikki says:

    @Guarneri: Because, clearly, those two situations are high crimes worthy of death.

  19. Grumpy Realist says:

    @MarkedMan: I wonder if this is a case like nailing Al Capne on income tax fraud. After all, there’s been a certain odor about this man for some time.

    New Jersey strikes again?

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I had no idea Menendez was in the Tea Party,

  21. Andre Kenji says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Menendez is the new Joe Lieberman.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andre Kenji: What did Lieberman go to prison for?

    ***(politically incorrect answer: hot man on man sex)

  23. C. Clavin says:

    @James P:
    Did you figure out that entire conspiracy theory with you fake PhD decoder ring?

  24. Tillman says:

    @MarkedMan: Well, unless you start taking away a politician’s ability to engage in “honest graft.” (I’m going to link that article all the time because I like it.)

    Dirty graft is parasitic, mere larceny, whereas honest graft helps knit together a patronage network that ensures leaders can lead and followers will follow. Reformers who failed to understand this crucial distinction, Plunkitt said, courted anarchy. “First,” he reasoned, “this great and glorious country was built up by political parties; second, parties can’t hold together if their workers don’t get the offices when they win; third, if the parties go to pieces, the government they built up must go to pieces, too; fourth, then there’ll be h— to pay.”

  25. Tyrell says:

    These scandals are not always what they seem. Sometimes it is payback from a rival. More often than not it is the result of opposing some “key” legislation, snooping around in something they shouldn’t, or getting too “independent”. Basically they bucked some person or group who has a lot of power. Then here comes the evidence: forged, fake, spurious, and slick. If they try to deny it they end up looking like a fool.
    Think about these congressional leaders: Wilbur Mills, Hayes, Jim Wright. Big people, but brought down suddenly. It has happened before. It will happen again.

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: I know it’s hard to let some of this stuff pass, C, but please…DFTFT.

  27. superdestroyer says:

    @Tillman:

    Nonsense. What the honest draft does is create power blocks inside the government who have positions contrary to the overall good and who have an outsize influence on policy and governance.

    After watching the first year of House of Cards, I have been amazed that no one comment that none of the Democratic Party blocks shown in the program actually cared about academic education when it came to an “Education Bill.” Every political fight was just over what others would term “Honest Graft” and entitlements. I find it odd that so many progressives are cheering a show that makes politics about entitlements and special benefits.

  28. Tillman says:

    @superdestroyer: Honestly, I think people (whatever their political inclinations are) like that show because, as Kevin Spacey said on the Colbert Report, “It’s a fantasy. People know it is a fantasy because in the show, Congress gets things done.”

    The thing is, when you point out that every negotiation in the show is over entitlements, that’s exactly what the author of the article was talking about. You used to be able to buy the loyalty of recalcitrant Congressmen with pork-barrel spending, earmarks, or whatever you want to call it for that Congressman’s district. She would enrich her constituents with federal largesse — which, having the widest tax base, could always furnish the most money — and they would regard her as a good Congressman and re-elect her. This was how the leadership of the parties built voting coalitions among ideologically-disparate districts, as the communication back then was slow and regional politics was therefore more idiosyncratic.

    This is now a fantasy, as such backroom dealing, the buying of a Congressman’s loyalty for a party project, is illegal. The Republicans shut off the last of it by outlawing earmarks early into their control of Congress in 2011. You’re right in that it leads to power blocks inside the government, but what we have now is basically the same situation without a flow of money (through jobs granted to party insiders and such) to centralize party decision-making. Now it’s left to a donor class that can cavort with itself ideologically and decide things through superPAC contributions and other such dark money avenues. Honest graft leads to political machines, enriching a politician class to contend with business, which would in turn foster a free market; what we have now leads to business-owned government, or oligarchy, which shuts down competition and leads to stagnation.

    I mean, it’s weird. But reality is absurd.

  29. James P says:

    @Nikki: NO one has ever suggested that Lois Lerner get the needle (or the firing squad). I would think that 25 years in the slammer would be appropriate punishment for her using the power of government to punish private citizens who politically disagreed with her and her Dear Leader.

  30. James P says:

    @C. Clavin: My degree is not fake and I do not have a decoder ring – nice try.

  31. superdestroyer says:

    @Tillman:

    When government is about paying off groups, then one ends up in the situation that no one really cares if the schools are educating students. One ends up like the situation in Maryland where drug gangs controlled the state prison system. One ends up with road construction that makes decades to build a few miles of road such as in Mass. One ends up with defense contractors that cannot believe a working weapons system.

    When you conbine a patronage system with 27,000 pages of federal laws and the more pages of accompanying regulations, then government puts itself into a situation where nothing can be easily accomplished and there is a massive amount of waste and abuse. However, it seems to be the situation that most voters actually want, so the situation will continue.

  32. Tyrell says:

    @superdestroyer: “Once a crew of state highway workers got out to the job site and realized they had forgotten all the shovels. One of them calls into.the office and tells them, and wants to know what they should do. “Just lean on each other until we can get the shovels out there !”

  33. Tillman says:

    @superdestroyer:

    When government is about paying off groups

    That’s what it has been like for quite some time, depending on how one defines “paying off” a “group.” Whites were paid off by beneficial housing policy from the ’40s to the ’60s, and while the value of those homes took something of a hit recently, still a large source of equity to the white portion of our citizenry to this day. I haven’t heard anything about how the public schools of that time were lacking. Hell, our educational gap didn’t start to spring up (racially or socioeconomically) till the ’70s if I remember right.

    One ends up like the situation in Maryland where drug gangs controlled the state prison system.

    You’re gonna have to cite this, if only because I’m intensely curious about it.

  34. superdestroyer says:

    @Tillman:

    Less than 50% of 19 y/o Americans were high school graduates in 1955 and blacks have always lagged whites in high school gradudate rates. The gap has always existed in the U.S. The real question for the future is the need for education greatly exceeds what most schools are capable of delivering. However, has shown this week in the Chicago Mayor’s runoff election that when Democrats start discussing schools all they are really discussing are government jobs, government spending, social welfare programs. and government entitlements. Actually academic education is never discussed except to discount it and try to ignore it (no testing as a good example).

  35. superdestroyer says:

    @Tillman:

    How soon progressives forget something when it does not support their political beliefs.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/thirteen-correctional-officers-indicted-in-maryland/2013/04/23/6d2cbc14-ac23-11e2-a8b9-2a63d75b5459_story.html

    And please do not call the Washington Post a right-wing website.