Democratic Senator Robert Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges yesterday afternoon. Here’s everything you need to know about what’s happening.
Who is he?
Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey is currently serving alongside Cory Booker as the senior United States Senator. Menendez, a veteran politician for nearly 30 years, began his career with a mayoral run in Union City in the late 1980’s. He has served as a member of the New Jersey General Assembly and the New Jersey Senate from the 33rd district, in addition to a more recent seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
What’s going on?
Yesterday, Menendez was brought up on corruption charges by a federal grand jury after a three year investigation by the Department of Justice. The whopping 14-count indictment includes “one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice. The indictment highlights the relationship between Menendez and Dr. Salomon Melgen and alleges the two were involved in a bribery scheme exchanging money and power for personal gain. Peruse the full, 68-page indictment here.
Who is Dr. Salomon Melgen?
Melgen, an ophthamologist in Florida, befriended Menendez over two decades ago. Prosecutors allege Menendez aided Melgen in contesting Medicare charges (in 2012, Melgen received the most Medicare reimbursements of any doctor in the country) in exchange for lavish gifts. Additionally, prosecutors believe Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, used his clout to intervene on a bid by Melgen to secure a port-security contract in the Dominican Republic. Menendez maintains Melgen’s gifts, which include trips on a private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, were merely due to their deep, personal friendship.
What are Menendez’s colleagues saying?
“Innocent until proven guilty.” Gov. Chris Christie told the Wall Street Journal, “Everyone deserves the presumption of innocence and there’s no reason for me or anybody else to get out ahead of themselves.” In a Facebook post Wednesday, fellow Senator Cory Booker voted to stand by Menendez, calling him “an invaluable resource and mentor to me.” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop told the Jersey Journal he would “stand by my friend…anyone who is making assumptions about Bob Menendez based on a news story clearly doesn’t know the senator.”
What happens next?
Menendez pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges at a hearing in Newark Thursday afternoon. Menendez was released on his own recognizance, meaning no bail was set, but he was required to surrender his personal passport. He is still permitted to travel internationally with his Senate passport. Melgen also pleaded not guilty, however his bail was set at $1.5 million with the required 10-percent in cash and the balance in property. He also must surrender his Dominican and U.S. passports. Menendez’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, spoke on his client’s behalf in the hearing, but afterwards the senator reiterated his innocence. “These allegations are false, and I am confident they will be proven false,” he said. It could be months, or even years, before the senator sees trial. D.C. attorney Stanley Brand told NJ Advance Media that Menendez’s legal team will likely file a motion to dismiss the indictment.
Is he staying on as Senator?
In a press conference held in Newark just hours after his indictment, Menendez said he is “outraged” by the allegations. He also claimed the accusations, “contradict his public service career and his entire life…[he is] proud of what [he has] accomplished and [he is] not going anywhere.” Though he will not resign as senator, Menendez has stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
This all sounds familiar…
Of course it does! New Jersey has a, shall we say, unique history of political corruption. As detailed by The Daily Beast, Menendez is one in a long line of Jersey politicians whose wheeling and dealing has gotten them in hot water. The Garden State is also #1 in the country in criminals per politician. Fun Fact: Menendez is the first senator to face a bribery charge since 1980, when the Abscam scandal broke. That senator? Harrison A. Williams Jr., a democrat from…New Jersey.