New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is expected to face criminal corruption charges for using his political influence to benefit a wealthy campaign donor. Citing sources within the Department of Justice, multiple news outlets on Friday confirmed the pending indictment of Menendez, who has served New Jersey in Congress -- first in the House, then in the Senate, since 1993.
Menendez will be accused of using his influence to assist Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist on whom he had relied for substantial campaign contributions and other support over the years.
Federal investigators have been looking into Menendez’s relationship with Melgen for years, with a particular focus on his role in pressing the Departments of State and Commerce to intervene in a contract dispute between the Dominican Republic and a company owned by Melgen.
For his part, Menendez has consistently denied any wrongdoing, claiming that accusations of corruption made against him are nothing more than political smears. In at least one case, that appears to have been true.
In 2012, Menendez was falsely accused of frequenting underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. It later emerged that the women who accused him had been paid to do so, and had never met the senator.
The announcement of pending charges against the senator come during a rough week for the state he represents. It was revealed last Friday that the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, the state’s bombastic Republican leader, had negotiated a settlement with Exxon in a long-running industrial pollution case. The state had originally sought $8.9 billion in damages. Exxon’s liability was already established. However, before a judge could rule on the penalty, the state announced that it had reached a settlement with Exxon for about 3 percent of the amount it originally sought – some $250 million.
The deal outraged New Jersey lawmakers, who pledged to investigate. Christie’s administration is currently under federal investigation itself for, among other things, the decision to shut down access lanes to a major bridge as political payback against a small-town mayor.
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