Less than two weeks after it announced it planned to retry Sen. Robert Menendez and campaign donor Dr. Salomon Melgen, the Trump administration said the Justice Department will not put the senator on trial during his election year.
“Given the impact of the Court’s Jan. 24 Order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges,” said Justice Department spokesperson Nicole Navas.
Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, was indicted in 2015 following a months-long investigation for allegedly misusing his authority to do favors for Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor, in exchange for private jet flights, lavish vacations including luxury hotel stays and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. .
The federal government also charged Menendez with willfully leaving Melgen’s gifts off his Senate financial disclosure forms.
Melgen faced the same charges with the exception of making false statements.
A Democrat, Menendez sparred with the Obama White House over diplomacy with Cuba and the Iran nuclear deal, but he accepted about $100,000 in campaign contributions from Donald Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and their families.
They were indicted on April 1, 2015 by a federal grand jury in Newark, that alleged a bribery scheme in which Menendez accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests.
Last week, the federal judge who presided over the two-and-a-half-month trial that ended with a deadlocked jury last year, dismissed seven of the 18 counts on which Menendez and co-defendant were indicted
AnnaLou Tirol, acting chief of the Public Integrity Section, announced the government’s intent to retry the two men after a jury deadlocked in November.
The DOJ and FBI handled the case, which stems from Menendez’s ties to Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who is a campaign donor. Melgen, along with his family and associates, contributed more than $1 million to Menendez and political action committees to help secure the senator’s re-election in 2012, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
The indictment stated that Menendez allegedly intervened in a dispute between Melgen and the government of the Dominican Republic over a port security contract purchased by Melgen. It also alleges that Menendez helped support the tourist and student visa applications of three of Melgen’s girlfriends, as well as the visa application of the younger sister of one of Melgen’s girlfriends.
“Throughout these efforts, Menendez allegedly engaged in advocacy for Melgen all the way up to the highest levels of the U.S. government, including meeting with a U.S. cabinet secretary, contacting a U.S. Ambassador, meeting with the heads of executive agencies and other senior executive officials and soliciting other U.S. Senators, all in order to assist Melgen’s personal and pecuniary interests,” the DOJ said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors focused their investigation on a number of incidents involving Menendez and Melgen that would implicate the senator in criminal activity, ranging from receiving improper gifts to the misuse of his office.
Among the allegations were numerous trips Menendez is said to have taken on Melgen’s private jet, which he did not disclose. Because Melgen is one of Menendez’s financial backers, the flights could be considered gifts under federal law. Menendez, who said his failure to report the trips was simply an oversight, repaid Melgen $70,000 after the issue became public.
Menendez’s alleged use of his position in the Senate to aid Melgen’s business is perhaps the more damning piece of the investigation. Authorities examined whether Menendez pressured federal officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to change its reimbursement formula after the agency ruled that Melgen had overbilled the Medicare program by $8.9 million.
The FBI searched Melgen’s Florida office in 2013, and he has since been convicted of separate charges in what was called the biggest Medicare fraud case in history. Menendez denied that he had improperly intervened to benefit his friend, stating that he only sought clarification on “ambiguities” in the CMS policy.
The probe was linked to a Daily Caller report that appeared in November 2012, while he was a candidate for re-election, accusing New Jersey Menendez of sleeping with two underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.
One New Jersey political strategist wondered if the decision to pull the plug on the prosecution was intended by Trump to discredit federal law enforcement officials, who are being attacked as part of a cover up aimed at derailing the probe into Russian interference with the presidential election.
Menendez said investigators found that the Cuban government was behind a smear campaign alleging that he engaged with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. The prostitution scandal, which was reported by the conservative Daily Caller in 2012 when Menendez was up for re-election, proved to be false.
A tipster using the pseudonym ‘Peter Williams’ shared with a government ethics watchdog a rumor of Menendez and the prostitutes, plus other damning allegations. The watchdog contacted the FBI. would-be scandal
Months later, apparently out of frustration over the slow pace of the smoldering firestorm, the rumor-monger rang the Caller, which set up a video interview with the prostitutes, the New York Times reported. The Daily Caller has declined to name its sources.
The video of the prostitutes talking about “Bob” at first failed to gain mainstream attention, so improbable did the charges seem and so untrustworthy was the source. But the controversy opened the way to a wild search for dirt on Menendez.
A Star-Ledger editorial responded to the indictment by calling on Menendez to “resign and spare us the drama.”
“The state needs a respected senator who is focused on his job, not a tarnished defendant who spends his days fending off credible charges of corruption and raising money for his legal defense,” the editorial said. “He has done good service to this state over the past 40 years. But that is now tarnished forever. His decision to stay and fight only compounds the damage.”
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