Senator Menendez’s Administrative Director Refused to Answer Grand Jury Questions

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks to reporters during a news conference in Newark, N.J. on Friday, March 6, 2015. A person familiar with a federal investigation says the Justice Department is expected to bring criminal charges against the New Jersey Democrat in the coming weeks. Menendez says that he has …
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Robert Kelly, the administrative director for Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), refused to answer questions posed by the grand jury that may soon report a bill of indictment against the senator on corruption charges.

In a February 27 opinion “under seal” that was inadvertently released and first reported on by the New Jersey Law Journal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said Kelly invoked attorney work-product privilege when he refused to answer the grand jury’s questions about Senator Menendez’s travel on a private plane owned by his friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen.

Allegations that Menendez illegally used his influence to aid Melgen’s private business interests in a $9 million Medicare billing dispute and a Dominican port security deal are at the center of the grand jury’s investigation.

Also at issue is the degree to which transportation services provided to Menendez by Melgen on his private plane were properly reimbursed. Menendez reimbursed Melgen $58,000 in 2013 for trips taken as much as two years earlier on Melgen’s private plane, some to destinations in the Caribbean.

Kelly’s refusal to answer the grand jury questions was based on his invoking the attorney work-product privilege.

Attorneys for the Department of Justice, Senator Menendez, and one of Senator Menendez’s other aides agreed that Kelly should have answered those questions. As a result, the Third Court of Appeals did not address the merits of Kelly’s attorney work-product privilege claim.

The February 27th opinion instead dealt with the question of whether Senator Menendez’s legislative aide Michael Barnard’s refusal to answer 50 questions posed by the grand jury about the senator’s meetings with Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius and others, was justified under the speech or debate clause of the Constitution.

A Federal District Court Judge in New Jersey had ruled on November 25 that Barnard could not invoke the speech or debate clause.

Attorneys from two law firms, Chadbourne & Park and McDermott, Will, & Emery, arguing on behalf of appellants John Doe (presumably Michael Barnard) and ABC Entity (perhaps the office of Senator Menendez) appealed that decision.

On appeal, the Third Circuit Court sent the issue back to the Federal District Court, requiring it to hold a more detailed hearing to determine if the speech or debate clause actually applied. At issue is whether Barnard was engaged in legislative business in his involvement with the meetings between Menendez and Sebelius.

It is unclear if Kelly is represented by attorneys at Chadbourne & Park or McDermott, Will, & Emery, or if the Federal District Court’s November 25 ruling addressed his attorney work-product privilege claim.

It is also unclear if Kelly has subsequently been called to testify once more before the grand jury, and if he has been called, if he has testified and answered all questions posed to him about Senator Menendez’s travel.

Breitbart News asked Kelly if he is an attorney and if he refused to answer grand jury questions by invoking attorney work-product privilege and if he continues to maintain that privilege. Kelly has not responded.

Breitbart News also asked for comment from attorneys at Chadbourne & Park and McDermott, Will & Emery, but has not received responses.