Sen. Robert Menendez talks during a news conference, December 26, 2013, in Jersey City, N.J.
Julio Cortez/AP Photo

Menendez draws federal scrutiny in N.J.

Updated
Ordinarily, a phrase such “controversy rattles New Jersey politics” would be rather straightforward. Given recent developments, however, there are a few too many controversies to choose from, so it’s necessary to be more specific.
 
Indeed, late yesterday, we learned that federal enforcement is reportedly taking a closer look at a prominent statewide official in the Garden State, suspected of wrongdoing. No, not that one. No, not that one, either. This one.
The federal criminal investigation into New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez is broader than previously known, NBC 4 New York has learned.
 
The Department of Justice is investigating Menendez’s efforts on behalf of two fugitive bankers from Ecuador, multiple current and former U.S. officials tell NBC 4 New York. The probe into Menendez’s dealing with the bankers comes as federal authorities are also investigating his relationship to a big campaign donor from Florida.
 
The criminal investigation is focusing in part on the senator’s ties to William and Roberto Isaias, and whether the senator crossed a line in trying to help the two brothers stay in the United States.
The brothers in question fled from Ecuador many years ago, and according to this new report, investigators are examining whether Menendez’s efforts to help the Isaiases is related to their campaign contributions around the same time.
 
Tricia Eright, spokesperson for the Democratic senator, said in a statement, “A year after a false smear campaign was launched against Senator Menendez, once again we see anonymous sources making outlandish allegations. Our office works each year with literally hundreds of individuals and families from across the country who are seeking help with the immigration process. We review each and every request we receive, and if we feel any inquiry is appropriate, we make it.
 
In this particular case, Senator Menendez believed the Isaias family had been politically persecuted in Ecuador, including through the confiscation of media outlets they owned which were critical of the government. We are not aware of any inquiry into the Senator’s actions on this matter.”
 
And since the Justice Department doesn’t comment on investigations like these while they’re ongoing, there’s no formal evidence to the contrary.
 
It’s worth noting, however, that when it comes to Menendez, he’s faced allegations like these in the recent past, and the charges turned out to be nothing.
 
Shortly before the 2012 elections, conservative media outlets alleged that Menendez paid for sex in the Dominican Republic. The accusations appeared to be based on largely non-existent evidence, and it wasn’t long before the story unraveled completely – three Dominican escorts admitted they were paid to lie. The senator was guilty of nothing.
 
And if we look back a little further, in 2006, a young U.S. Attorney in New Jersey by the name of Chris Christie – that name sounds familiar – leaked word that he was looking into possible Menendez corruption. That investigation didn’t go anywhere, either, and the senator faced no charges.
 
With this in mind, when Menendez’s allies respond to these new reports by arguing in effect, “Here we go again; more baseless accusations,” they at least have recent history on their side.
 
That said, these new allegations at least seem more serious. Unlike the ridiculous prostitution accusations, the Isaias brothers exist. The senator actually made an effort to help them and the Isaias family actually made campaign contributions. Maybe this was all above board, maybe not, we’ll find out soon enough.
 
Either way, while we wait, it’s safe to say this isn’t what New Jersey politics needs right now.
 
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Bob Menendez

Menendez draws federal scrutiny in N.J.

Updated