Yesterday, as major news outlets reported that New Jersey senator Bob Menendez (D) was being indicted for federal corruption charges, the Department of Justice also publicly shared the 68-page indictment:
The Department of Justice also shared a press release, part of which stated the following:
Robert Menendez, a U.S. Senator, and Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, were indicted today in connection with a bribery scheme in which Menendez allegedly accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit Melgen’s financial and personal interests, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel of the FBI’s Newark, New Jersey, Division.
“Government corruption – at any level of elected office – corrodes the public trust and weakens our democratic system,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “It is the fundamental responsibility of the Department of Justice to hold public officials accountable by conducting thorough investigations and seeking an indictment when the facts and the law support it.”
“The job of an elected official is to serve the people,” said Special Agent in Charge Frankel. “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 charges and activity alleged in this indictment are another example of the FBI’s commitment to aggressively and tenaciously pursue public corruption in the state of New Jersey.”
Menendez, 61, of Paramus, New Jersey, and Melgen, 60, of Palm Beach, Florida, were indicted in the District of New Jersey for one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez was also charged with one count of making false statements.
Last night, Menendez held a press conference about the indictment.
Andrew Ford, the breaking news reporter for the Asbury Park Press, live-tweeted the Menendez conference here. Ford also shared Menendez’s full statement, which expressed anger about the indictment:
— Andrew Ford (@AndrewFordNews) April 1, 2015
— Andrew Ford (@AndrewFordNews) April 1, 2015
Meanwhile, key power players in Latino DC quickly rallied in support of the New Jersey senator. Yesterday, Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza wrote the following in a HuffPost piece, saying that U.S. Latinos should not rush to judgment:
We are saddened to learn the news today about Senator Robert Menendez. Under the American justice system, those accused are presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and Hispanic Americans have every reason to give the senator the benefit of the doubt. For when it comes to assessing Senator Menendez’s record in Congress, there is no doubt about his effectiveness.
For millions of Latinos across the nation, Senator Bob Menendez is more than just the senior senator from New Jersey. To the Hispanic community, Senator Menendez has been our voice and our champion in the United States Senate. In the more than 20 years he has been in Congress, Senator Menendez has consistently been one of the most thoughtful, constant, and eloquent advocates not only for Latinos, but for working families, consumers, and the country’s interests abroad.
In a post published by The Hill, immigration advocates also weighed in:
“My fervent hope is that Senator Menendez emerges from the current troubles stronger than ever,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration rights organization America’s Voice.
“For he is not only the senior Senator for New Jersey; he’s also the senior senator for Latinos,” he continued.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) issued this statement:
Bob Menendez has never given me any reason to question his integrity, his dedication to honest public service or his commitment to the American people. As a leader in the House and in the Senate, he has been a key ally in fighting for sensible immigration reform and a touchstone for all matters related to Latinos in this country. He is a friend who is quick with advice, encouragement and good ideas. I am particularly proud of his leadership on foreign policy matters related to Latin America. My hope is that these legal matters are resolved quickly so he can go back to concentrating 100 percent on his service to the people of New Jersey and the United States.
An NBCNews.com story led with this headline: “Sen. Robert Menendez Indictment A Blow to Latino Political Influence.” That story quoted Roberto Suro, a public policy professor of the University of Southern California: “It takes a long time for somebody to get that kind of senior position. Looking at the larger trajectory of Latino empowerment, if this takes him out of action, it would be a significant setback.”
A story by POLITICO anaylzed whether the indictment has any legal bite. This is how it closed its article:
[Former federal prosecutor Peter] Zeidenberg pointed out that Menendez contacted executive branch officials as a U.S. senator and pushed them to make decisions by vouching for Melgen and his associates.
The government’s case could also be buoyed by the fact that, from 2007 to 2012, Menendez failed to disclose any of the gifts on his annual forms. While experts say Menendez will argue that the omissions were simple oversight, the federal government makes clear that it views them as reason for suspicion and concealment.
And experts said the friendship defense, especially when such big-dollar amounts were involved, could rub the jury the wrong way.
“I don’t think a jury is going to like this conduct,” Zeidenberg said. “I think they’re going to be offended by it.”
Meanwhile, it appears that Melgen has yet to publicly comment about yesterday’s indictment, and last week The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice was trying to get Melgen to testify against Menendez. Besides being a successful eye doctor, Melgen was also the founder of VOXXI.com (his title was changed to co-founder in 2013), a Latino news site which shut down last week due to revenue issues, according to VOXXI’s editor-in-chief as well as its attorney.