Attorney General Eric Holder has given permission to prosecutors with the U.S. Department of Justice to indict Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on corruption charges after the conclusion of a two year investigation into the senator’s friendship with Florida eye doctor and political donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen.
Charges against Menendez are expected within weeks, according to a CNN, which broke the story.
Menendez was accused in 2013 of using his political office to advocate for changes in Medicare reimbursement policy that would benefit Melgen. At around the same time, Menendez flew for a vacation in the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s private jet and may have received other gifts. When the investigation became public two years ago, Menendez reimbursed Melgen for the flights out of his personal account.
Meanwhile, Menendez has maintained that the accusations are attempts to “smear” his reputation.
“As we have said before, we believe all of the 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,” wrote Tricia Enright, communications director for Menendez, in a statement Friday. “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.”
Dr. Ben Chouake, president of the New Jersey-based pro-Israel political fundraising organization NORPAC which has included Mendendez as one of its leading benefactors, thought the timing of the announcement was suspicious.
“It’s extremely important to protect the reputation of the office,” said Chouake. “Maybe it’s all correct, but this case is years old already. So why now?
“Even if it’s all correct, to make it look to everyone like a partisan vendetta is really bad judgment.”
This move by Holder comes only days after Menendez delivered a powerful, fire and brimstone speech to a packed audience at last week’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference 2015 about his opposition to what he considers to be dangerous concessions that U.S. negotiators are reportedly giving to Iran in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations.
Menendez has been the most prominent member of the president’s own party to argue against the administration’s negotiation tactics and has been strongly in favor for additional sanctions on Iran, co-authoring the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act, with Republican Senator from Illinois, Mark Kirk.
Menendez’s strong positions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and close relationship with both the national and New Jersey’s Jewish community has endeared him to both Democrats and Republicans.
“I hope it works out for the senator who’s a tremendous person. He’s devoted his entire life to public service,” said Chouake. “I don’t know if it’s payback, but it sure looks it.”
[email protected] @dmitriyshapiro