Major corruption charges are coming for a Senator with a shady relationship with a political donor

Going down?
Going down?
Image: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, will face federal corruption charges in the coming weeks, according to a CNN report.

The Senator has been dogged by accusations of abusing the public trust for several years.

In particular, one relationship with a donor, Dr. Salomon Mengen, has repeatedly raised ethical questions: Menendez interceded with US officials on Mengen’s behalf after he was accused of fraudulently over-billing public insurance programs, and again when a company that Mengen has interests in faced a contract dispute in the Dominican Republican.

Mengen, who received the country’s single-largest reimbursement from Medicare in 2012, has been scrutinized for over-billing before. He is a major financial supporter of Democratic politicians, who are among the program’s main defenders.

Menendez also took several free trips to the Dominican Republic on Mengen’s private plane in 2010. When those trips became public, Menendez reimbursed the doctor some $58,000 out of his own pocket to cover the costs of the flights, and dispel ethics concerns over what the senator described as an oversight.

The senator has denied any wrong-doing in these cases, and has fought with investigators in court over whether conversations he and his aides had with US officials should be protected by Congressional privilege, which gives lawmakers immunity from questions about their legislative business.

If indicted, it would end a streak that saw some allegations of misconduct against Menendez falter; most notably, three Dominican prostitutes were paid by the Senator’s political enemies to falsely say the married senator had utilized their services. While those accusations fell apart, prosecutors have apparently found more meat in the corruption charges.

Menendez is the top Democrat in the Senate on foreign policy, but he has diverged with the Obama administration on key issues. A Cuban American, the senator opposed the president’s decision to relax restrictions on the US -Cuba ties, and also has taken a harder line than the president on Iranian nuclear talks.

Politically, a corruption case against a Democrat doesn’t look good for the party ahead of the 2016 elections, but the damage is tempered by the fact that a Democratic administration brought the charges, and that New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, faces abuse-of-power allegations of his own. Should Menendez wind up out of office, a Democratic candidate would be expected to have an advantage, though not a massive one, in an election to replace him.