Senate to Reopen Ethics Investigation into Menendez Corruption
Jury deadlocks in trial of New Jersey Dem senator — but his days on the Hill may be numbered as McConnell makes announcement
The political career of Sen. Robert Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey, lived for another day on Thursday when a federal jury deadlocked on 12 corruption charges.
But shortly after the mistrial was declared, the Senate Ethics Committee said it would immediately take up the case.
The Senate Ethics Committee announced it would resume its ethics investigation.
And Democrats said they were ready to welcome Menendez back with open arms.
“Bob is a valued colleague, so it’ll be good to have him back here free of these charges,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaking to NorthJersey.com. “I think he went through hell with this, and that’s enough. And the charges were not proven, and therefore he should be able to come back and carry on.”
The jury told the federal court in Newark they were stuck, and for now, that lets Menendez go back to work in the Senate.
“We have each tried to look at this case from different viewpoints but still feel strongly in our positions, nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions,” the jury wrote, according to CNN.
The mistrial means federal prosecutors will have to consider a new trial.
Menendez was on trial for 18 counts of conspiracy and bribery related to his powers as senator. Prosecutors say the senator accepted more than $600,000 in political contributions, a luxurious hotel suite at the Park Hyatt in Paris, and free rides on a private jet from a wealthy ophthalmologist, Dr. Salomon Melgen, in exchange for political favors for Melgen, according to CNN.
Those favors included Menendez’s trying to get visas for three of Melgen’s girlfriends — one from Brazil, one from the Ukraine, and the third from the Dominican Republic.
Deliberations began seven days ago, after two years prepping for trial. U.S. Judge William Walls told the court that the jurors were irreversibly deadlocked.
Federal prosecutors have the option to retry the case, as a mistrial does not invoke “double jeopardy.”
“Because of the seriousness of these charges, I am calling on the Senate Ethics committee to immediately investigate Sen. Menendez’s actions, which led to his indictment.”
But Menendez’s problems will not end at the U.S. courthouse in Newark, even if he is tried again. On Thursday afternoon, after the mistrial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he favored the Senate ethics investigation into Menendez.
“Sen. Menendez was indicted on numerous federal felonies,” McConnell said in a statement to the media. “He is one of only 12 U.S. senators to have been indicted in our history. His trial shed light on serious accusations of violating the public’s trust as an elected official, as well as potential violations of the Senate’s Code of Conduct.”
McConnell said because of the seriousness of the situation, the Senate Ethics Committee should look at the Menendez charges, as it had been doing in 2012. The federal investigation caused the Ethics Committee to close down and defer to prosecutors.
Now, the Ethics Committee is not impeded.
“Because of the seriousness of these charges, I am calling on the Senate Ethics committee to immediately investigate Sen. Menendez’s actions, which led to his indictment,” said McConnell.
The Menendez trial has been remarkable because the senior New Jersey senator faces 18 counts, and the felony convictions could get him up to 20 years in prison. Yet throughout the trial, Menendez refused to say he would step down if convicted.
Among the charges against Menendez are that he worked to counter a claim against Medicare overbilling for Melgen, in exchange for luxurious gifts such as vacations, private jet trips, and $750,000 in campaign donations.