News Our Way

Menendez facing another federal investigation

Sen. Bob Menendez is facing a federal investigation, an adviser to the New Jersey Democrat confirmed to POLITICO on Wednesday.

“Senator Menendez is aware of an investigation that was reported on today. However, he does not know the scope of the investigation,” Menendez adviser Michael Soliman said in response to an inquiry. “As always, should any official inquiries be made, the Senator is available to provide any assistance that is requested of him or his office.”

Citing two sources, the digital news organization Semafor reported that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is investigating Menendez — five years after he beat federal corruption charges.

While details of the latest investigation are scarce, the Semafor report said “the broad outlines of the new inquiry are similar to the 2017 case,” but that it does not involve Menendez’s former co-defendant and friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.

In the earlier case, prosecutors accused Menendez of doing political favors for Melgen — such as interceding on his behalf when he was being investigated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and discouraging donating port security screening equipment to the Dominican Republic for the benefit of a company in which Melgen had a stake — in exchange for political donations, private jet flights and lavish vacations in Melgen’s Dominican villa.

Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, argued that everything he did for Melgen was borne out of friendship and that there was no quid pro quo.

After a lengthy trial in 2017, a jury deadlocked, with most members wanting to acquit Menendez. Prosecutors at first announced plans to try Menendez again, but quickly backed off.

The new investigation threatens to cloud Menendez’s expected reelection campaign in 2024.

But Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is an extremely influential figure in the New Jersey Democratic Party, so it’s unlikely many, if any, party officials will publicly distance themselves from him any time soon. When Menendez was indicted in 2015, Democrats — including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — publicly stood with him, with some even showing up to watch part of his trial.

Democrats had reason to fear Menendez leaving office last time. Republican Chris Christie was governor and would have appointed an interim replacement. Current Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s term doesn’t end until January 2026.

The news also comes as Menendez’s son, Robert J. Menendez, is running for the House seat Menendez occupied before being elevated to the Senate in 2006. The younger Menendez, a Democrat with little political experience, is running in one of New Jersey’s most heavily Democratic districts and is not facing a serious challenge.