The Justice Department is dropping its case against Sen. Robert Menendez, less than two weeks after it announced it would retry the New Jersey Democrat on corruption charges.
The federal judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge William H. Walls, last week entered acquittals on seven of the 18 charges in the indictment against Menendez and his co-defendant, South Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.
That appeared to be a turning point for federal prosecutors, even though Walls left the rest of the government’s case intact. “Given the impact of the Court’s Jan. 24 Order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges,” DOJ spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said in a statement.
Walls declared a mistrial in November after individually interviewing members of the jury after it deadlocked.
After last week’s ruling, Menendez flashed what has become an increasingly confident and defiant tone about the case.
“It just goes to prove that the government was wrong from the get-go,” he said after that ruling. “Hopefully, the government will review based upon that whether or not they should even proceed. But in either event, I have every expectation to be fully exonerated.”
On Wednesday, he got his wish.
“From the very beginning, I never wavered in my innocence and my belief that justice would prevail. I am grateful that the Department of Justice has taken the time to reevaluate its case and come to the appropriate conclusion,” Menendez said in a statement.
“I thank God for hearing my prayers and for giving me strength during this difficult time. I have devoted my life to serving the people of New Jersey, and am forever thankful for all who have stood by me. No matter the challenges ahead, I will never stop fighting for New Jersey and the values we share,” he added.
Menendez is running for a third full Senate term this year. Following the mistrial in November, top Democratic power brokers in the Garden State rallied around him, pledging their support for his re-election bid. Those included Sen. Cory Booker, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross and the Democratic chairs in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Middlesex counties. He also had the backing of the new Democratic governor, Phil Murphy.
Democratic political pundit and lawyer Michael Starr Hopkins announced a primary challenge to Menendez over the weekend. After the DOJ’s decision was made public Wednesday, Hopkins said he was staying in the race.
“My decision to run for the U.S. Senate has always been bigger than Bob Menendez,” he tweeted. “The only way for Democrats to win in the general election is to put forth a candidate that can draw a clear distinction between right and wrong. I still believe that I am more qualified to take on the Republicans in the fall”
Peter Cohn, Niels Lesniewski, Todd Ruger and Simone Pathé contributed to this report.
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