U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is set to face criminal corruption charges in a federal investigation that alleges he used his senate office to push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts, CNN is reporting.
According to the report, sources close to the case allege Attorney General Eric Holder has signed off on prosecutors’ request to proceed with charges, which stem from Menendez’s relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who the senator has called a friend and political supporter.
Melgen and his family have been generous donors to the Democrat and various other committees Menendez is involved with, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In 2013, federal agents raided the politically connected eye doctor’s home in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Investigators have focused in part on plane trips Menendez took in 2010 to the Dominican Republic as a guest of Melgen. In 2013, after word of the federal investigation became public, Menendez paid back Melgen $58,000 for the 2010 plane trips calling his failure to properly disclose the flights an “oversight.”
Menendez has denied any wrongdoing in his ties to Melgen. His spokeswoman did not immediately comment on CNN’s report that the Department of Justice is preparing charges against him.
The case could pose a high-profile test of the Justice Department’s ability to prosecute sitting lawmakers, having already spawned a legal battle over whether key evidence the government has gathered is protected by the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause.
A former member of the New Jersey state Assembly and Senate with deep ties to Hudson County, Menendez is serving his second full term in Washington. He was recently bounced from his powerful post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has been both a vocal critic and supporter of President Barack Obama’s policies on issues like immigration and Iran nuclear negotiations.
The news throws a serious cloud over the Democrat’s career just as some political observers saw it gaining momentum toward higher posts, notably in a future Democratic presidential administration.
Per the report, prosecutors are also “focusing on whether Menendez broke the law in advocating for Melgen’s business interest in a Dominican Republic government contract for a port screening equipment,” at a time when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency had considered donating port screening equipment to the country.
Other lines of inquiry in the investigation, began in 2013, included allegations that Menendez solicited prostitutes in the DR and that he violated the law by helping two Ecuadorian bankers stay in the U.S. — though the report notes sources briefed on the probe say those inquires have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing.
Menendez led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2009-2011.
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