There’s been chatter for years that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) would face a criminal indictment, but the charges never came. As we discussed a month ago, some of the allegations against the Democratic senator were quickly discredited, while others simply faded away.
But the investigation into the New Jersey lawmaker continued, and as of this afternoon, the rumored indictment finally arrived: Bob Menendez is now facing federal corruption charges stemming from alleged benefits he provided to Florida optometrist Salomon Melgen.
The expected indictment of Menendez follows a months-long investigation into his relationship with Melgen. The senator has admitted he accepted free private plane trips from Melgen, including a 2008 trip to the luxury resort of Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Menendez claimed to have later repaid almost $70,000 for his trips on the doctor’s jet.The Justice Department had been looking into whether, in exchange for the gifts, Menendez improperly lobbied U.S. officials to help Melgen with business matters. Two key issues include whether the senator improperly helped Melgen in Melgen’s efforts to secure a port security deal worth tens of millions of dollars, as well as helping the eye doctor with Medicare regulators looking into whether Melgen had overbilled Medicare.
As is usually the case, the Justice Department isn’t saying much about the indictment, though it did acknowledge the charges have been filed.
This is separate, by the way, from another investigation into the senator’s alleged ties to Ecuadorean bankers, who also live in Florida.
I’d note for context that criminal charges against sitting senators are quite rare. In fact, Menendez is the first since former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to face an indictment.
The New Jersey Democrat will reportedly host a press conference at 7 p.m. eastern, though he’s repeatedly insisted he’s done nothing wrong.
As for the Republican message, let’s not forget that many GOP lawmakers, especially in the Senate, have suggested that Menendez is facing unfair treatment from federal investigators as part of a broader conspiracy, orchestrated by the White House, to punish the senator for disagreeing with President Obama on some areas of foreign policy. Given reality, the conspiracy theory is very difficult to take seriously.