UPDATE: DOJ drops corruption charges against New Jersey’s Bob Menendez

UPDATE — 1/31, 7:17 p.m. EST: The Department of Justice announced Wednesday it will not retry Sen. Bob Menendez (D -N.J.) on corruption charges after a mistrial late last year. Federal charges against Menendez’s co-defendant, Dr. Salomon Melgen, were also dropped.

Citing a federal judge’s decision on Wednesday, Jan. 24, to dismiss seven of 18 total criminal counts, a DOJ spokeswoman intimated the chances of prosecutors returning a guilty verdict were low given “evidence admissible in a retrial”.

Menendez is expected to seek reelection as New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator in November.

 

A U.S. District judge presiding over the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez struck down seven criminal counts levied against the New Jersey Democrat and his co-defendant and associate, Dr. Salomon Melgen on Wednesday.

Following the ruling, in an unusual move, Judge William Walls declared himself removed from presiding over any further attempt to prosecute the case.

Charged on 18 counts of corruption, the original attempt to try both Menendez and Melgen ended in a mistrial in November 2017, with jurors voting by a count of 10–2 to acquit.

“There was no smoking gun in the case,” said one juror assigned to the original trial. “In my gut I was like, ‘That was it? That’s all they had?’”

In his decision, Judge Walls dismissed three counts of bribery against both men, of which included over $700,000 in political contributions to Mendenez’s 2012 Senate reelection campaign.

Walls ruled federal prosecutors were unable to meet a lofty legal standard for political contributions of which charges suggested an expectation of favor was anticipated for donations.

Similarly, Walls tossed an “honest-service” fraud count against both men connected to a separate $300,000 donation Melgen contributed to a political action committee.

In dismissing the seven charges against Menendez and Melgen, Walls effectively cripples the Justice Department’s case of bribery.  Federal prosecutors announced prior to Walls’ action they intended to retry the case, much to the chagrin of Menendez’s lawyers who filed a direct appeal with DOJ to drop the case.

Despite Walls’ gesture, he did allow damaging charges to remain in place:  Menendez still faces three counts of bribery connected to flights he took on Melgen’s private plane, a stay at a Paris hotel paid for by Melgen and two counts of honest-service fraud.

Menendez also faces one count of conspiracy, one count of interstate travel to carry out bribery and a single charge of filing a false congressional financial disclosure form.

Originally charged in April 2015, Menendez’s case revolves around co-defendant and friend Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist, allegedly donating to Menendez’s reelection campaign in exchange for Menendez intervening on Melgen’s behalf in the Dominican Republic to aid Melgen’s businesses in the country.

 

[AP] [Bloomberg] [Politico] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy Roll Call via Getty Images]