Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) was indicted on federal corruption charges on Wednesday.
Menendez was charged on 14 counts with crimes that included conspiracy, bribery, fraud, and making false statements.
Prosecutors had been investigating whether the powerful New Jersey Democrat improperly advocated for the business interests of Dr. Salomon Melgen, including by intervening on the doctor’s behalf in a medical-billing dispute.
Menendez has acknowledged that he flew on Melgen’s private plane to the Dominican Republic and failed at first to properly pay for the trips. He later made reimbursements.
“The job of an elected official is to serve the people,” Richard Frankel of the FBI’s Newark, New Jersey, division, said in a statement. “The citizens of New Jersey have the right to demand honest, unbiased service and representation from their elected officials at all levels of government.
“The charges and activity alleged in this indictment are another example of the FBI’s commitment to aggressively and tenaciously pursue public corruption in the state of New Jersey.”
Though the charges were expected — CNN reported last month that the Department of Justice was preparing the indictment — they nevertheless complicate several ongoing issues in the US Senate.
Notably, Menendez was the leading Democratic critic of President Barack Obama’s approach to Iran. The US and other world powers are in the middle of tense negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking Democrat, once fumed that the White House’s talking points sounded like they come “straight out of Tehran.”
Additionally, Menendez could be the deciding vote on whether attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch is confirmed. The senator has reportedly indicated he may abstain because of the Justice Department’s role in prosecuting him, which is problematic for Obama because Lynch may need every last Democratic vote to make it past Republican opposition.
According to The Wall Street Journal, this is the first time the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against a sitting US senator in seven years.
Menendez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider, but the senator has previously denied any wrongdoing.
“As we have said before, we believe all of the Senator’s actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that. Any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason,” Menendez’s spokeswoman, Tricia Enright, said in a statement after the CNN report.
Enright further said Menendez and Melgen were “personal friends,” which she said explained their financial ties.
“The Senator has counted Dr. Melgen as one of his closest personal friends for decades,” Enright said. “The two have spent holidays together and have gone to each other’s family funerals and weddings and have exchanged personal gifts.”
The office of Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) told Business Insider that they would release a statement about Menendez’s status within the conference after the senator makes his statement later in the day.
Menendez is reportedly set to address the media at 7 p.m. ET.
View the indictment below:
Last updated at 4:53 p.m. ET.
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