The Justice Department reportedly is preparing to charge New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez with corruption counts over allegations he used his office to help a Democratic donor.
A person familiar with a federal investigation of Menendez told the Associated Press the Justice Department is expected to bring criminal charges against him in the coming weeks.
The pending charges were first reported by CNN.
The Justice Department would not comment, though DOJ sources are not denying that charges may be coming. Menendez’ office did not confirm the reports, but defended the senator’s conduct.
In a statement, the senator’s spokeswoman Tricia Enright said: “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.”
Attorney General Eric Holder also declined to comment on the case when asked by Fox News and President Obama ignored shouted questions by reporters as he left Marine One following a trip to South Carolina.
The case against the powerful lawmaker, two years in the making, comes at a sensitive time for Menendez — and the Obama administration. Menendez has been a leading critic of the direction of current diplomatic talks with Iran over its nuclear program, and has helped draft legislation meant to check the administration’s power to negotiate a deal.
As top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — and a Cuban-American lawmaker — he also has criticized the administration’s efforts to normalize ties with Cuba.
The federal case involves Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, a friend and donor, and allegations of potential favor-trading.
According to CNN, investigators looked at a plane trip the senator took as Melgen’s guest to the Dominican Republic. They also looked at how the senator allegedly advocated for him with Medicare officials who accused him of overbilling and allegedly pushed his friend’s business interests in the Dominican Republic.
The New Jersey Law Journal, late last month, also reported on court documents in the case, which reportedly were posted by accident for a brief time. The publication said an appeals court has ordered a hearing into whether Menendez’ aides can be compelled to testify to a grand jury in the case. The Law Journal, citing the court documents, said the case revolves around the billing dispute Melgen had with Medicare officials and the donor’s deal to sell port-screening equipment to the Dominican Republic. In the latter instance, the documents reportedly said the senator’s former chief counsel asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection not to donate old screening equipment to the Caribbean nation — which would allow a Melgen-tied contractor to sell such equipment.
Enright said Friday that Melgen is one of Menendez’ closest friends but they cannot specifically address the claims.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Various allegations indeed have swirled around the New Jersey lawmaker, including that he solicited prostitutes in the Dominican Republic — allegations that have not been substantiated.
The Justice Department’s record of going after high-level lawmakers is mixed.
They have won convictions against several House members, including former Republican Rep. Rick Renzi and former Democratic Rep. Bill Jefferson. But the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, had his conviction vacated over prosecutorial misconduct. They also never went after Alaska Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, despite claims they were considering it years ago.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Jake Gibson and Jodie Curtis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.