- The Justice Department indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on 14 counts of corruption charges Wednesday. The charges include eight counts of bribery, as well as honest services fraud, conspiracy, and making false statements. You can read the indictment here.
- The charges relate to Menendez's relationship with a major donor, wealthy Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen. Menendez frequently traveled with Melgen, raised money from him — and advocated for his business interests to federal officials.
- Among other things, Menendez twice flew on Melgen's private jet to Melgen's Dominican Republic mansion in 2010, on Melgen's dime, and didn't appropriately disclose the trips. He later paid Melgen back $58,500 for the trips in 2013.
- When federal officials found that Melgen's clinic had overcharged the government by $8.9 million, Menendez stepped in in Melgen's defense. On one occasion, he met with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the matter. On another, he met with officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- Menendez's office has denied there was any wrongdoing, saying that the senator and Melgen were merely longtime friends, that his discussions with federal officials were about "policy issues," and that his initial failure to reimburse Melgen for the flights was just "an oversight."
- Menendez is the first sitting senator to be indicted since Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) in 2008. He is the first sitting senator to be indicted on federal bribery charges since Sen. Harrison Williams, also a Democrat from New Jersey, was indicted in 1980, according to the New York Times' Matt Apuzzo.
A key Senate Democrat
Menendez, first appointed to the Senate in January 2006, is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a former chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He has recently been pressuring the Obama administration to toughen Iran sanctions, and has harshly criticized Obama's recent deal with Cuba. He was also part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that put together the Senate's immigration reform bill in 2013.
However, there's been a dispute about whether two of Menendez's aides could be compelled to testify in court. Lately, CNN's Evan Perez reports, prosecutors have been "under pressure" to bring charges "in part because of the statute of limitation on some of the allegations."
Menendez will hold a press conference tonight to address the allegations. NBC's Frank Thorp reports that he will temporarily step down as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.