Senator Bob Menendez To Reportedly Face Federal Corruption Charges

A powerful Democratic Senator looks like he's about to be in a whole lot of trouble.

Bob Menendez

CNN is reporting that the Department of Justice is preparing to file criminal charges against New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who until the Democrats lost control of the Senate was the head of the powerful Senate Foreign Affairs Committee:

 The Justice Department is preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, alleging he used his Senate office to push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts.

People briefed on the case say Attorney General Eric Holder has signed off on prosecutors’ request to proceed with charges, CNN has learned exclusively. An announcement could come within weeks. Prosecutors are under pressure in part because of the statute of limitation 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. His spokeswoman did not immediately comment on CNN’s report that the Department of Justice is preparing charges against him.

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.

Menendez advocated on Melgen’s behalf with federal Medicare administrators who accused Melgen of overbilling the government’s healthcare program, according to court documents and people briefed on the probe. Melgen was among the top recipients of Medicare reimbursements in recent years, during a time when he was also a major Democratic donor. Melgen’s attorneys have denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors also are focusing on whether Menendez broke the law in advocating for Melgen’s business interest in a Dominican Republic government contract for a port screening equipment. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, at the time, considered donating port screening equipment to the Dominican Republic, which would have hurt the contract of Melgen-controlled company.

(…)

Menendez, now serving his second full term as senator, led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2009-2011.

During a Senate subcommittee hearing in 2012, Menendez didn’t mention ICSSI, Melgen’s company, by name, but he did press Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Rooney about an unnamed company who had a contract to X-ray cargo that went through all Dominican ports — a contract that, he said, Dominican authorities “don’t want to live by.”

“If those countries can get away with that, they will,” the senator said. “And that puts American companies at a tremendous disadvantage.”

Menendez’s office said at the time the senator’s interest was based on his efforts to combat narcotrafficking in the region.

The connections between Menendez and Melgin have been the subject of news stories and allegations of corruption and influence peddling for quite some time now. Just when he took over the Chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee two years ago, for example, it was being reported that a Federal Grand Jury in Miami was investigation Menendez and his ties to Melgin. Around that same time, allegations began to surface that Menendez allegedly had sexual relations with one or more underage prostitutes while on a trip to the Dominican Republic that was paid for by Melgin. However, the women who made that claim quickly recanted their story and, shortly thereafter it was reported that these women were paid to fabricate the prostitution story and that there may have been some connection between those payments and The Daily Callerwhich originally pushed the prostitution story. While those charges were quickly dismissed and forgotten, though, the investigation into Menendez and his relationship with Melgin has quite obviously continued, and now that Eric Holder is preparing to leave office it seems apparent that the Justice Department is ready to proceed forward with what will no doubt by a high-profile criminal case against one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate.

While this is the first that the ongoing investigation of Menendez has made the news in some years, there was a technical glitch at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week that made clear that there’s been a battle going on behind the scenes between Menendez and his lawyers and the United States Attorney for some time:

The FBI probe has already spawned a legal battle between the government, Menendez and his former aides. Last week, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals briefly posted, apparently by accident, documents detailing legal efforts to block certain evidence and testimony the government wants to use.

The documents were quickly put back under seal, but not before a reporter with the New Jersey Law Journal secured a copy and later published a story.

According to the documents, Menendez’s lawyers have sought to claim emails and testimony from aides is protected by the constitutional protections given to members of Congress in carrying out their duties. The speech and debate clause prohibits questioning of members of Congress about “legislative acts or the motivation for legislative acts.”

The fight centers in part on the Justice Department’s attempt to compel testimony from Menendez’s aides, some of whom have refused to answer questions to a grand jury.

According to the documents, the government wants to question aides about a series of 2012 calls and meetings on Melgen’s fight with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency. Among these is a meeting among Mendedez, Sen. Harry Reid and then Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The government is also pushing to use emails between Menendez’s office and a CBP official about the Dominican ports issue.

A federal district court ruled in favor of the government to compel testimony from Menendez’s aides, but the appeals court reversed the ruling and ordered a hearing.

“The parties primarily dispute the legislative character of Senator Menendez’s two conversations with [then acting CMS administrator Marilyn] Tavenner and his meeting with Secretary Sebelius,” the appeals court said. “These communications are not manifestly legislative acts because they are informal communications with executive branch officials, one of whom was at the time a presidential nominee whose nomination was pending before the United States senate.”\

The Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution is set forth in Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 and states members of Congress:

shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their Respective Houses, and in going to and from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

The clause has generally been construed somewhat broadly to include not just immunity from arrest while Congress is in session, but also criminal immunity for performing what are essentially the official duties of their respective offices, although what exactly that constitutes is somewhat unclear. In a rather famous case involved former Senator Mike Gravel, the Supreme Court ruled that the privilege created by the clause extends to Congressional aides when they are performing duties that would be considered immune if they were being performed by the legislator themselves. Based on these pretrial rulings, which you can read about in more detail at the New Jersey Law Journal, it seems apparent that the Speech and Debate Clause will be part of the Menendez’s overall defense in the case to come and in his attorney’s efforts to preclude certain evidence from being presented at trial. At the very least, that will give the Federal Courts the opportunity to further clarify this rather obscure part of the Constitution.

 Obviously, Menendez is entitled to the same presumption of innocence as any other criminal Defendant, especially given the fact that charges have not even been filed at this point. However, since the filing of an indictment does seem to be imminent it is inevitable that questions about his political future will start to be raised. His current term doesn’t end until after the 2018 elections and, given the fact that he has been fighting the Justice Department behind the scenes over this investigation, it’s apparent that he isn’t going to give up easily. However, with Republicans in charge of the Senate an Ethics Committee investigation now seems far more likely and that, combined with a criminal trial will no doubt take their toll on the Senator as time goes on. Whether that leads to a resignation or not remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.

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. Will Taylor says:

    Its always nice to see politician charged for corruption, but the timing of this is kind of suspicious. Menendez has made no secret of his opposition to the administration’s potential Iran deal.

    I’m probably getting ahead of myself but If he’s forced to resign, the GOP is going to pick up another seat in the Senate with christie picking his successor. Jeffrey Chiesa, the guy who Christie appointed to replace Lautenberg could conceivably be back in the Senate again. I wonder if anyone has ever served in the Senate twice without winning an election.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    @Will Taylor:
    Seriously??? A Democrat is being charged by Holder and you still see conspiracy’s???
    This guy is crooked…even for Joisey…it’s been just a matter of time until they had enough to charge him.
    I say hang him high.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    Isn’t this his second trial? I seem to remember an FBI investigation 6 or 7 years ago.

    I work with some people who used to be on his team. While I’m not fan of Menendez, and wouldn’t mind seeing him ousted, don’t count him down and out. The man’s a fighter, and knows how to play for keeps.

  4. Will Taylor says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I never used the word conspiracy, but even you would have to admit that the timing of this release is kind of suspect. There are consequences for all politicians when they cross their party and especially the president. Some of these moves are public but a fair amount of them remain private. Either way, if he is guilty, I couldn’t care about the political payback as this happens pretty often on both sides of the aisle.

  5. edmondo says:

    54-46 becomes 55-45. and the odds look tougher and tougher.

  6. Tyrell says:

    @Will Taylor: Yes, this is what can happen when a politician crosses someone very powerful or votes the “wrong” way on some bill, or maybe go around snooping in areas that they are not supposed to. I remember. Wilbur Mills and Wayne Hayes : powerful, yet brought down, probably by opposition to some international trade treaty: the “special prosecutor” using rigged, phony evidence. Then they are put away and threatened to keep silent.
    This happens quite a lot.

  7. James P says:

    This is an abuse of power by Obama/Holder.

    They are prosecuting Sen. Menendez because he dared to speak out against BHO’s capitulation to Iran. This is a warning to others who would dare to disagree with Obama about a policy.

    Sen. Menendez says the Obama regime’s talking points sound like they were drafted in Tehran. Two weeks later, boom, he’s indicted. Coincidence?!?! Don’t make me laugh!

    Even Nixon never abused his power to this degree. Indicting someone for disagreeing with you on policy makes Obama the most corrupt and abusive political figure in history.

  8. Jeremy R says:

    @Will Taylor:

    I never used the word conspiracy

    Oh come on. You’re suggesting the President, in order to get payback against one of a number of Dems who voices opposition to elements of his foreign policy, is improperly influencing Holder and the DOJ to bring federal corruption charges against a powerful, high ranking member of his own party. You’re clearly alleging a conspiracy.

    It also doesn’t make much sense. After Netanyahu’s slights, Menendez had backed off on pushing his various Iran-related bills to the floor. The DOJ charging him isn’t going to curry any favor in that matter. If the prosecution leads to his ouster, a republican replacement will surely be even more adverse to Obama’s Iran policy.

  9. James P says:

    @Jeremy R: [“Oh come on. You’re alleging the President, in order to get payback against one of a number of Dems who voices opposition to elements of his foreign policy, is improperly influencing Holder and the DOJ to being federal corruption charges against a powerful, high ranking member of his own party. You’re clearly alleging a conspiracy. ”

    That’s EXACTLY what I’m alleging. BHO is the most thin-skinned guy in the world and would do anything to avenge any perceived slight.

    It’s not just to get revenge on Sen. Menendez but also to dissuade other would-be whistle blowers.

    We also know that Holder is a lackey stooge who would happily abuse his power for political reasons.

  10. Jeremy R says:

    @James P:

    It’s not just to get revenge on Sen. Menendez but also to dissuade other would-be whistle blowers.

    Wait, what? How exactly is Sen. Menendez a whistleblower??

  11. Morty says:

    Doug:

    any chance you can change the headline for this story to something more accurate? I’d suggest
    “Blind squirrel finds nut”

  12. Will Taylor says:

    @Jeremy R:

    If I wanted to use the word conspiracy, I would have of. I’m not exactly afraid to speak my mind on here.
    the timing is what it is, Suspicious. I find it more odd than you don’t think there is any chance or possibility that the administration had a role in moving this ahead. Thats’ just plain naive.

  13. David M says:

    @James P:

    Sen. Menendez says the Obama regime’s talking points sound like they were drafted in Tehran. Two weeks later, boom, he’s indicted.

    The stupid, it burns.

  14. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jeremy R:

    D F T F T

    Thanks

  15. Jeremy R says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Had to google that, but you’re right. My bad.

  16. CET says:

    Tempting as it is to wade into this morass of paranoia, I have a question about the original post:

    shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace,

    What I am inferring from the assumption that this sentence doesn’t negate congressional protection is that either:

    (1) Influence peddling is not a felony.
    (2) That the semi-colon in ; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place. Means that these protections apply even in cases of felony and treason, and that the felony/treason caveat only applies when you want to drag a politician from the chamber in handcuffs . . .

    Am I missing something?

  17. Pinky says:

    None of us would know whether or not he’s guilty, or whether or not there’s enough evidence for him to be found guilty. None of us know whether or not he’s corrupt. I guarantee you, no one on this site would know if he’s being targeted by a massive foreign-policy conspiracy. It’s ridiculous to make that claim.

  18. Tyrell says:

    @James P: Yes, it could be he crossed the President and is paying the price. But. I am thinking someone or some group up.higher and a lot more powerful.
    They would be unknown to most people.

  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    You know that either you’ve run into some serious ODS – or possibly the Apocalypse – when you have Teabaggers defending a Democrat accused of official corruption.

  20. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tyrell:

    Or maybe, just maybe, he’s just corrupt and he got caught … 😀

    That said, assuming this goes to trial, it will drag on for a long time. Pleadings and motions, evidentiary hearings, a veritable blizzard of paper will be flying back and forth – certainly long enough to nullify any advantage Christie might have been able to obtain by nominating a GOP replacement.

    Menendez almost certainly won’t resign, and until he’s convicted / has exhausted his appeals, I don’t see 67 votes to expel him from the Senate.

  21. James P says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Because Sen. Menendez is being set up. Menendez is one of the few Democrats with the courage to tell the truth so BHO is going after him.

    BHO is turning this country into a banana republic.

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CET:

    (1) Influence peddling is not a felony.

    Violations of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b) are classified as Class B felonies.

    (2) That the semi-colon in ; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place. Means that these protections apply even in cases of felony and treason, and that the felony/treason caveat only applies when you want to drag a politician from the chamber in handcuffs . . .

    Doug addressed this in the body of the article

  23. humanoid.panda says:

    @edmondo: Special elections are a thing you could look up online.

  24. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Tyrell:

    Wilbur Mills and Wayne Hayes : powerful, yet brought down, probably by opposition to some international trade treaty: the “special prosecutor” using rigged, phony evidence.

    Oh good G-d …

    Wilbur Mills was stopped by the Park Police because his car was driving around, at night, with no headlights. He was trashed, and the driver, a stripper named Fannie Foxe, jumped out of the car and tried to evade questioning by apparently setting out to swim across the Tidal Basin. Mills later wandered onto the stage at a strip joint in Boston, again trashed, accompanied by the stripper’s husband – then proceeded to give an interview from her dressing room.

    Shortly thereafter, Mills joined AA, entered rehab and CHOSE not to run for reelection. The guy was a flaming alcoholic who finally self-destructed on national TV from a stripper’s dressing room. While a sad story, Mills wasn’t railroaded. He destroyed his own political career.

    Hayes, after dumping his wife of 38 years to marry his secretary, hired a bimbo to replace her who, by her own admission “couldn’t type, couldn’t file and couldn’t even answer the phone”.

    Even better, Hayes was recorded discussing the sexual arrangement with said bimbo, and admitted on the House floor to the accusations. His only defense? “She wasn’t hired solely to be his mistress.” He (wisely) CHOSE to resign from Congress shortly thereafter.

    Stop listening to Infowars. It’ll rot your brain.

  25. humanoid.panda says:

    @James P: So, Obama had federal agents investigate Menendez for years, knowing that he would object to his foreign policy in winter of 2015?

  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    D F T F T please 😀

    Thanks

  27. sam says:

    @Tyrell:

    I am thinking someone or some group up higher and a lot more powerful.

    They would be unknown to most people

    Jesus, not the Illuminati?

  28. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @sam:

    No, the Bilderbergers 😀

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @James P:

    Sen. Menendez says the Obama regime’s talking points sound like they were drafted in Tehran. Two weeks later, boom, he’s indicted.

    Exactly. How long do you think it takes the FBI to build a case against a sitting Senator to the point where they are ready to indict? Two weeks? More like two years, minimum.

    Coincidence?!?! Don’t make me laugh!

    Can I make you think, instead?

  30. C. Clavin says:

    @Will Taylor:
    You described a conspiracy.
    Just because you didn’t use the exact word doesn’t change the meaning.

  31. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Will Taylor:

    but even you would have to admit that the timing of this release is kind of suspect.

    Honestly, no. Speaking as a guy who used to be a federal prosecutor for a while, I suspect that the biggest motivator here is the looming SOL expiration. Indictments can often take a while to obtain, and if they miss the deadline, they can’t ever charge him – guilty as sin or not. No prosecutor worth his salt would allow that to happen when he has a case.

  32. Tyrell says:

    @James P: Nixon: think about this – during his second term the so-called gas “crisis” occurred, bringing long lines, higher prices, and rationing. Nixon promised an investigation. The Watergate mess blew up and the next thing you know, Nixon is gone. It has been portrayed as a break in and cover up by White House. Wrong. I remember that most of the people I knew thought it was the Democrats pulling something to get rid of Nixon: but Nixon was a shoo in to get re-elected. The local dog catcher could have beat McGovern. So, wrong again. The next thing we knew Nixon was gone. The big oil- government complex won.

  33. Andre Kenji says:

    I thought that Menendez was the guy involved with underage prostitutes from the Dominican Republic….

  34. Eric Florack says:

    perhaps it would take the FBI that long to build the case. But can you envision a situation where an Obama supporter in Congress would actually be prosecuted?

    I doubt anyone in here remembers Jim Traficant. he went on for years, decades in fact, with criminal investigations coming out of his ears. Yet, he was never prosecuted until such time as he became too big a liability for the Democrats.

  35. Jeremy R says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    That’s covered in Doug’s write-up above:

    However, the women who made that claim quickly recanted their story and, shortly thereafter it was reported that these women were paid to fabricate the prostitution story and that there may have been some connection between those payments and The Daily Caller, which originally pushed the prostitution story.

  36. Andre Kenji says:

    @Jeremy R: I know that. I was trying to be sarcastic.

  37. CB says:

    @James P:

    OK, THIS guy is Reynolds, right?

  38. Eric Florack says:

    if you’d like an example of it not happening to a true Obama supporter, consider Sharpton.

  39. Andre Kenji says:

    There is no US Senator called “Sharpton”.

  40. CET says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Violations of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b) are classified as Class B felonies.

    That’s reassuring. Thank you.

    Doug addressed this in the body of the article

    I guess I’m going to have to take your word for this one, because I’m not seeing it.

  41. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “You know that either you’ve run into some serious ODS – or possibly the Apocalypse – when you have Teabaggers defending a Democrat accused of official corruption.”

    And would this be the very same set of Teabaggers who a few months ago were screaming that Menendez was running a string of underage prostitutes and the Obama administration was covering it up?

  42. Gustopher says:

    @James P:

    Because Sen. Menendez is being set up. Menendez is one of the few Democrats with the courage to tell the truth so BHO is going after him.

    Wow, that’s just… stupid. Surely, Cristie is going to replace Menendez with someone much more appealing to Obama.

  43. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @CET:

    I guess I’m going to have to take your word for this one, because I’m not seeing it.

    It’s here:

    The clause has generally been construed somewhat broadly to include not just immunity from arrest while Congress is in session, but also criminal immunity for performing what are essentially the official duties of their respective offices

    This is one of those (many) areas where a section of text in the Constitution can’t be interpreted based on the verbiage. It has to be considered within the context of the precedent established by SCOTUS in applying it. To the reader, it may seem to say one discrete thing; to SCOTUS it can mean much more than just that one discrete thing. Their interpretation establishes what the words of the Constitution actually mean in practice.

  44. anjin-san says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    So, Obama had federal agents investigate Menendez for year

    We can’t dismiss the possibility that he is once again using time travel to support he nefarious ends…

  45. anjin-san says:

    @Eric Florack:

    I doubt anyone in here remembers Jim Traficant

    Ummm. Why do you doubt that anyone in a room full of political junkies remembers Traficant?

    Is this something like your special super secret insider information that told you McCain was surging to a win in the closing days of the 2008 election? (the “special” information that turned out to be McCain campaign press releases)

  46. Guarneri says:

    “The government is also pushing to use emails between Menendez’s office and a CBP official about the Dominican ports issue.”

    Clearly the man is not a graduate of The Clinton Institute for Advanced IT Studies.

  47. CET says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Ah – thank you for the clarification.

  48. An Interested Party says:

    Clearly the man is not a graduate of The Clinton Institute for Advanced IT Studies.

    President Hillary Clinton…go ahead, say it and let us know if your head explodes…