Politics

Menendez Says ‘Bring It On’ to Potential Corruption Retrial

New Jersey Democratic senator has issued mid-January deadline to DOJ to continue prosecution

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., wants the Department of Justice to decide by January whether or not it will retry his corruption case. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Embattled Sen. Robert Menendez is telling the Department of Justice either to try to prosecute him again on corruption charges or drop the case.

The New Jersey Democrat, whose bribery trial was declared a mistrial in November, told reporters Thursday he wants investigators to decide by mid-January whether they will try him in court again.

“I believe their decision must come within the next 30 days,” Menendez said, referring to the court decision on his trial. 

“We would have the ability to present a motion to say prosecute or dismiss... And if you want to prosecute, bring it on.”

The legal process has already dragged on longer than anticipated after a lengthy trial that did not reach a conclusive end.

Menendez faced 18 counts of charges relating to public corruption, including honest services fraud, after allegedly accepting bribes in the forms of gifts from South Florida opthamologist Dr. Salomon Melgen. Melgen was also tried in the case.

All told, prosecutors alleged that more than $700,000 in campaign contributions, as well as other gifts like vacations and flights on Melgen’s private jet, were part of a scheme to get the senator to provide inappropriate favors and assistance to Melgen, including help with the Department of Health and Human Services over Medicare billing issues.

A separate jury in Florida convicted Melgen on 67 counts related to his Medicare scheme earlier this year. He already faced 15 to 20 years in prison on those convictions.

Menendez still communicates closely with Melgen, a longtime friend.

“Listen I spent a lot of time with him and his family during the course of our trial. I spent a lot of time with his wife and daughter,” Menendez said of Melgen. “I still have the greatest affection for them and I wish him well... He believes that he was, at the end of the day, wrongfully prosecuted.”

But by a 10-2 count in favor of Menendez, the senator’s jury was declared hung.

“They didn’t believe in the facts; they had some really harsh words for the government,” Menendez said Thursday. “You can have a hung jury that’s 10-2 against you and two people just couldn’t agree, but when it’s 10-2 for you — and it’s not just the numbers, it’s what they said about the government’s case — I believe that’s the end of it.”

New Jersey TV pundit and attorney Michael Starr Hopkins has filed with the FEC to initiate an exploratory committee for a primary challenge to Menendez in the safely Democratic New Jersey Senate seat he has held for nearly two terms.

He’s worked as public defender in New York City and has been a political commentator on Fox, MSNBC and CNN and a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and The Hill. Last year, he worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Colorado.

After his first prosecution was declared a mistrial, Menendez famously called out certain “grave diggers” in the Garden State who he said were pulling against him during the investigation.

“I know who they are, they know who they are, and they know that I know who they are — and thats all that matters,” Menendez said Thursday when asked about the comments.

The senator appears to have grown increasingly embittered as the legal process has dragged on.

Menendez said he grew up in a county in which “there are elements of people — and particularly in law enforcement — who believe you can't grow up in that place and be honest,” he said.

“So when the government goes around asking people, ‘What can you give me on Menendez,’” he said, “that’s a perversion of the system.”

— Camila DeChalus contributed to this report

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