Senator Bob Menendez indicted on 14 counts of corruption

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, a vocal opponent of the president's Iran and Cuba policies, has been indicted on 14 counts of corruption.

The charges include conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud, in connection with his relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and political donor.  Melgen was also indicted.

The Hill:

The Justice Department alleges that Melgen bribed Menendez with loads of gifts including use of private jets, a Caribbean villa, a luxury hotel room in Paris, an exclusive Dominican resort, we well as donations to his legal defense fund set up to pay for legal fees associated with federal and congressional ethics investigations. 

The 68-page indictment charges that Menendez hid a number of those gifts and did not report any that he received between 2007 and 2012.

In return for those and other favors, Menendez allegedly helped Melgen secure immigrant visas for his "foreign girlfriends" and meddled in a multimillion-dollar Medicare overbilling claim concerning Melgen, according to the indictment.

“The job of an elected official is to serve the people,” Richard Frankel, the FBI special agent in charge of the case, said in a statement. “The citizens of New Jersey have the right to demand honest, unbiased service and representation from their elected officials at all levels of government.”

“The purpose of the conspiracy was for the defendants to use Menendez’s official position as a United States Senator to benefit and enrich themselves through bribery,” the indictment adds.

Speaking Wednesday night at a Newark press conference, Menendez was defiant, slamming the Justice Department and predicting "vindication" for himself.

Menendez doubled down on his pledge to keep his Senate seat, adding he is "confident at the end of the day that I still be vindicated." 

"I am angry and ready to fight," he said, adding he has "always conducted myself in accordance with the law." 

As has been suggested, I question the timing.  Menendez has stepped aside as ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which is a blow to efforts in Congress to force the president to submit any Iran agreement to their scrutiny, as well as impose further sanctions on Iran prior to the conclusion of a nuclear agreement.

The Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote April 14 on the bill he co-authored with Corker calling for Senate review of an Iran deal. If Menendez is out of the picture long-term, it could sap Democratic support for legislation that the White House has already threatened to veto. 

Typically, the most senior Democrat on a committee steps in when a member takes leave from a post, but Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would make the final decision. 

Reid is unlikely to support a bill that undercuts the president's position, which could mean that he would replace Menendez with an opponent of the bills.  Republicans need 12 Democrat senators to support the bills in order to override an expected Obama veto.  Most nose-counters on the Hill say that Corker is very close to that number, and the absence of Menendez from his position as ranking Democrat could affect the decisions of some of the Democrat fence-sitters.

This investigation has been going on for at lesat three years, so the question of timing is relevant.  DoJ claims that the timing relates to some of the charges bumping up against the statutue of limitations, which is why it moved now.  But it's hard to dismiss the idea that politics didn't play a role in when the indictment was handed down.

This kind of cronyism is common in Congress and in politics.  Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell got caught up in a corrpuption scheme with one of his business friends and is going to spend two years in jail.  Senator Harry Reid has his own ethical problems doing favors for friends.  You would think the DoJ would prosecute everyone who engages in these questionable practices, but it apparently picks and chooses its targets based on other criteria.

And politics may be part of it.

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