Sen. Robert Menendez illegally accepted multiple gifts “of significant value” from a friend and supporter that he failed to report — as required by congressional rules and federal law. That’s according to a unanimous bipartisan report by members of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
In a letter made public late Thursday, the six members of the panel told the New Jersey Democrat that “the committee has found that over a six-year period you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. [Salomon] Melgen without obtaining required committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate rule and federal law.
“Additionally, while accepting these gifts, you used your position as a member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests. The committee has determined that this conduct violated Senate rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct.”
The committee, however, only issued the letter as a “public admonition” and directed him “to repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid.” Menendez has described Melgen as a “brother.”
Menendez was acquitted of multiple related charges in January, and the Department of Justice initially said it planned to retry the senator. But the department subsequently opted not to seek the second trial. At that point, the Senate panel resumed its investigation, which had been put on hold during the trial.
The heart of the letter detailed the panel’s findings:
1.) “From 2006 through 2013, you accepted numerous things of value from Dr. Melgen, including, but not limited to, travel on private and commercial flights, a luxury hotel stay in Paris, and lodging on 19 occasions at a Dominican Republic villa. You did not pay fair market value for, or, where required, obtain necessary written approval from the Committee to accept, these gifts.
2.) “Over the course of several years, you failed to list gifts you had accepted from Dr. Melgen on your public Financial Disclosure Reports, as you were legally required to do.
3.) “During the same time period in which you accepted these gifts, you used your position as a member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests. At Dr. Melgen’s request, you:
a.) “Intervened in a matter where the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) found that Dr. Melgen had overbilled Medicare by more than $8.9 million. This intervention included persistent advocacy before multiple senior CMS officials over the course of three years, reaching, at its height, your meeting with the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
b.) “Advocated before federal agencies on behalf of ICSSI, a port security services company owned by Dr. Melgen. This advocacy included an in-person meeting with a senior official, in which you requested that the U.S. Department of State intervene in a contract dispute between ICSSI and the Dominican Republic. During this meeting, you threatened to hold a public hearing and to call the official to testify if the State Department failed to resolve the matter. You also acted to protect ICSSI’s contract to provide scanning services in the Dominican Republic by requesting that U.S. Customs and Border Protection delay its planned donation of screening equipment.
c.) “Assisted foreign nationals obtain visas to visit Dr. Melgen in the United States, including, in one case, appealing directly to a U.S. ambassador to seek reconsideration of a visa denial.”
The letter was signed by all six members of the panel, including Sen. Johnny Isakson ( R-Ga.), who is its chairman; Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), the vice chairman; and Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), James Risch, (R-Idaho), Brian Schatz, (D-Hawaii), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).
The ethics panel had not issued an official action against a senator since 2012, when it did so in a case involving then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).