The Department of Justice is preparing to charge Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, with corruption, CNN reported Friday.
According to the news outlet, Menendez is facing allegations that he traded his political influence for perks and favors from a top donor, Dr. Salmon Melgen—an eye doctor and political backer.
While a formal announcement could still be weeks from now, CNN reported that Attorney General Eric Holder has given the green light to move forward with the case before time runs out to pursue some of the charges.
Menendez's office denied any wrongdoing, as the senator has done many times in the past.
"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," Tricia Enright, Menendez's communications director, said in a statement.
Menendez's office has said that Melgen and Menendez's relationship has been longstanding and should not be interpreted as merely a transactional one.
"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," Enright said. "As has been reported, the start of this investigation is suspect. 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."
In January 2013, the Senate Ethics Committee opened a probe into allegations that Menendez accepted privately chartered flights from Melgen. At the time, Menendez was just rising to become Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the senator dismissed the two unpaid flights as administrative mistakes. That month, federal officials also searched Melgen's practice, but did not comment on what they were looking for.
Menendez is at the center of many of the top issues on Capitol Hill today. An advocate for Israel, he often has been at odds with the Obama administration as it seeks to negotiation a nuclear deal with Iran. He sponsored legislation that gives Congress the ability to vote on Obama's deal if it interferes with congressionally issued sanctions, but Menendez is still the top Democrat on foreign relations, a lawmaker who has been able to strike a middle ground for Democrats and Republicans before.
However begrudgingly, Menendez and fellow Democrats just agreed to hold off on an Iran sanctions bill until after March 24, buying more time for the administration to outline the framework of a deal with Iran, and pressured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold off on legislation requiring congressional approval for the deal. Whether or not there is a deal, one of those bills—both of which were co-sponsored by Menendez—will likely hit the floor at the end of March or in early April, right as the DoJ charges are expected to come down, according to CNN.
And Mendez is poised to play a major role as Congress turns to debate a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force to defeat ISIS next week. Menendez has won the praise and trust of senators on both sides of the aisle and remains a valuable operative for the Obama administration, which has shown little sway over Capitol Hill in recent years. From Cuba to Iran, Menendez has scrambled traditional party lines as he tackles foreign policy, but a criminal probe could overshadow all of that bipartisan goodwill.
According to a 2013 report from Open Secrets, the Melgen family gave more than $400,000 over a 20 year period to Menendez and other Democratic-aligned groups.
Sarah Mimms contributed to this article
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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