Court Rejects Sen. Robert Menendez’s Attempt to Get Corruption Case Thrown Out

John Bresnahan and Josh Gerstein, Politico, July 29, 2016

In a long-awaited decision, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.) failed in a bid to have the bribery and corruption case against him thrown out. A federal appeals court in Philadelphia has let stand the charges against him, rejecting his claims that his constitutional protections as a senator were violated.

The ruling is a serious blow to Menendez, who was hoping to have all or most of the case against him thrown out. Menendez will now ask for the full Third Circuit to consider his case, with an eye toward a possible attempt to take the issue to the Supreme Court.

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Menendez was indicted in April 2015 for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper gifts and campaign contributions as bribes in exchange for using his office to help Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and longtime friend and financial backer. Melgen has also been indicted and is awaiting trial.

According to the indictment, Menendez received nearly $1 million worth of gifts and campaign contributions from Melgen. In turn, Menendez allegedly intervened on Melgen’s behalf in a multimillion-dollar billing dispute with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and attempted to enforce a $500 million port security contract with the Dominican Republic, as well as obtaining visa applications for several of Melgen’s girlfriends.

While the ruling leaves Menendez facing the grim prospect of a trial on 12 felony charges, it does leave open the possibility for the New Jersey Democrat to try to defend himself at trial using many of the same arguments presented to the appeals court. The judges said Menendez is free to argue that the actions the Justice Department alleges he took on behalf of Melgen were in fact genuine expressions of legislative interest in the policies of the executive branch, rather than mere favors for a generous donor and loyal political supporter.

Menendez argued that under the Speech or Debate clause–a constitutional privilege that shields lawmakers and staff from legal action over legitimate legislative activities–he could not be charged with improperly aiding Melgen. {snip}

But the appeals court flatly rejected Menendez’s position.

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