New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez could face criminal charges later this month as a grand jury continues to consider the case, sources told NBC News' Jonathan Dienst. The case centers around Menendez's relationship with a wealthy donor named Salomon Melgen. Menendez, the current ranking member on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been under investigation for accepting free trips from Melgen, according to NBC News. Officials are investigating whether Menendez improperly aided Melgen's business interests in return.
In recent years, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has faced plenty of allegations, some of which were quickly discredited as nonsense, and some of which just faded away.
But the threat of criminal charges against the New Jersey Democrat apparently lingers.
Obviously, charges against a sitting senator would be a major development, though there's reason for some caution here -- we've seen reports like these before.
In fact, I remember the reports suggesting the Justice Department's interest in the senator's alleged misdeeds reached new heights back in January 2014 -- roughly 14 months ago. The scuttlebutt died down soon after.
In other words, this isn't the first time there have been reports about Menendez facing real legal trouble. That doesn't mean he's in the clear -- on the contrary, charges may very well be filed against the senator later this month -- but it does suggest political observers should be patient while we wait to see what happens. The allegations certainly seem serious, but time will tell.
In the meantime, the senator's office issued an official statement this afternoon:.
"As we have said before, we believe all of Senator's actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that. Any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason.
"The Senator has counted Dr. Melgen as one of his closest personal friends for decades. The two have spent holidays together and have gone to each other's family funerals and weddings and have exchanged personal gifts. As has been reported, the start of this investigation is suspect. We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited. We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously."
I'd note for context that criminal charges against sitting senators are quite rare. If indicted, Menendez would be the first since former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to face charges.