U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has been indicted on 14 federal corruption charges, including allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper gifts and campaign contributions as bribes in exchange for using his office to help longtime friend and financial backer Dr. Salomon Melgen.
The allegations stem from a close relationship between Menendez and one of his longtime friends and political supporters, Dr. Salomon Melgen, who was also charged.
According to the Associated Press:
A defiant New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez declared that he’s “not going anywhere” after he was charged with accepting nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions from a longtime friend in exchange for a stream of political favors.
Menendez is expected to appear in federal court in Newark Thursday in response to charges that he used the power of his Senate seat to benefit Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor who prosecutors say provided the senator with luxury vacations, airline travel, golf trips and tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to a legal defense fund.
The indictment, which marks the latest development in a federal investigation that came into public view when federal authorities raided Melgen’s medical offices in 2013, will almost certainly lead to a drawn-out legal fight between Menendez and a team of Justice Department prosecutors who have spent years investigating his ties to Melgen.
As The Atlantic explains in its in-depth review of the case:
[Menendez and Melgen] have been friends for years, and their relationship has been under media scrutiny for some time. The federal investigation has also been underway for some time, and the charges have seemed imminent for weeks. On Wednesday, prosecutors charged Menendez and Melgen with one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery, and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez was also hit with an extra count of making false statements.
Though the criminal charges and prosecution of Sen. Menendez, who co-chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would be “unfortunate for his family, his career, and his reputation”—the downfall of the influential, yet hawkish lawmaker could actually be a boon to various peace and reconciliation efforts he has long opposed. According to Benjamin:
While Menendez is progressive on issues such as immigration reform and gay rights, he is a hawk on two key foreign policy issues: Iran and Cuba. As ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, his conservative influence is throwing a wrench in the Administration’s negotiations with both nations. Bucking the positions of President Obama and most of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, Menendez has become “politically valuable” to the Republican party. In fact, more Republicans are outwardly criticizing the Justice Department for its investigation of Menendez than his own Democratic colleagues.
However the criminal proceedings develop, critics of Menendez like Benjamin won’t likely lose any sleep over his being called to account for his alleged misdeeds.
Facing scrutiny and possible accountability “on ethics violation would be fitting for the senator,” wrote Benjamin. “Menendez not only plays loose with favors for Dr. Melgen; he plays loose with issues of war and peace,” she concluded. “The people of New Jersey, and the rest of the country, deserve better.”