The Senate Ethics Committee announced a finding on Thursday evening that New Jersey Senator Robert Mendez (D-NJ) violated federal law and Senate rules by accepting unreported gifts from a friend and political ally.
The committee said Menendez then used the power of his office to assist the friend. The New Jersey Democrat avoided a conviction in a federal corruption trial in 2017.
The letter (attached below) from the Ethics Committee begins:
The Committee has found that over a six-year period you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required Committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law. Additionally, while accepting these gifts, you used your position as a Member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests. The Committee has determined that this conduct violated Senate Rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct. Accordingly, the Committee issues you this Public Letter of Admonition, and also directs you to repay the fair market value of all impermissible gifts not already repaid.
After detailing the facts of the case developed in the Ethics Committee’s investigation and ordering the senator to repay the fair market value of the gifts, the letter concludes, “you are hereby severely admonished.”
Breitbart News’s Matthew Boyle and other members of the news team provided extensive coverage over the past several years regarding the New Jersey Democrat’s actions and alleged actions. Here are a few highlights:
Breitbart News obtained flight records revealing that Democratic Party donor Dr. Solomon Melgen’s private jet was near the senator’s home on April 8, 2012, Easter Sunday, and flew from there straight to the Dominican Republic, Boyle wrote. The senator’s public schedule places him in New Jersey the night before the flight and has no other public events for several days. The Senate was not in session at the time.
The following year, February 2013, Boyle reported that one of Menendez’s friends may have mistakenly confirmed more details about the allegations of Menendez’s wrongdoings. Attorney and Dominican Republic politician Vincent Castillo Seman confirmed that Menendez was at the posh Casa de Campo resort on Easter weekend in 2012.
“I’ve known Menendez as a friend and of my cousin Salomon Melgen,” Castillo said, according to the news outlet Dominican Today. “No one has come forward on the allegations and evil accusations, we spend every Easter together in Casa de Campo.”
Menendez’s spokeswoman did not respond to Breitbart News’s request for comment in response to confirmation of his Easter whereabouts. They have also not responded when asked how Menendez got to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic for the Easter celebration this year.
Earlier that same month, then-Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told Breitbart News that Menendez’s claims of reimbursing the cost of flights he took aboard Melgen’s private jet do not add up. His comments followed an article by the National Journal claiming that Menendez spent 87 percent of his entire wealth to pay back Melgen for two flights in 2010 to the Dominican Republic.
National Journal‘s Shane Goldmacher wrote:
The New Jersey Democrat ranked 97th out of 100 senators in terms of his personal wealth, according to financial records filed that year and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. So Menendez’s decision last month to use his personal funds to reimburse a prominent political contributor $58,500 for two flights to the Dominican Republic came at a major cost. The repayment amounts to between 32 percent and 87 percent of the assets Menendez reported holding in bank accounts and stock, according to his latest financial-disclosure form, which was filed last year.
Also in February 2013, a local citizen from the Teterboro, New Jersey, area told Breitbart News that he saw Menendez and Melgen dining together at the airport’s Arena Diner. The brunch meeting occurred at about the same time that Melgen’s plane refueled in Teterboro before taking the direct flight to the Dominican Republic. “This new eyewitness evidence solidifies previous reports that Menendez was likely on that flight,” Boyle wrote at the time.
“This eyewitness’s account would prove Menendez was with Melgen a little more than a mile from Teterboro airport and would strongly suggest Menendez was on Melgen’s plane at least one time more than he’s previously admitted,” Boyle explained.
Following the revelations by Breitbart News, a grand jury began an investigation into Menendez’s ties to Dr. Melgen in March 2013.
The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig and Peter Wallsten wrote:
As part of the grand jury investigation, the three people said, federal agents have questioned witnesses about the interactions between Menendez and Melgen, who contributed $700,000 last year to Menendez and other Senate Democrats. The grand jury has also issued subpoenas for Melgen’s business and financial records, according to two people briefed on the probe who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an on-going investigation. Federal agents have not contacted Menendez, according to a person familiar with the case.
In October 2013, the FBI raided the offices of Dr. Melgen. News reports indicated agents were seen removing boxes from the doctor’s eye clinic. Melgen’s attorney stated it was the second time FBI agents raided the office that year.
Breitbart News’s Rich Tucker reported in December 2014 that career State Department diplomats did not want to give Ecuadorian citizen Estefanía Isaías permission to come to the U.S. However, the Obama Administration intervened on her behalf. And, it was not the first intervention for a member of her family. Her father and uncle were also allowed to remain in the U.S. following an extradition request from Ecuador. The father and uncle were convicted for bilking their country out of approximately $400 million.
According to the New York Times, the family has been active in Democrat party politics and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to President Barack Obama and Senator Menendez. The donations to Menendez came despite the fact that the family does not live in New Jersey. The donations also came shortly before the family requested assistance from the Obama Administration, the Times reported.
The family reportedly donated as much as $30,000 to a single senate campaign being run by the New Jersey senator.
As pressure continued to build on Senator Menendez, he “brusquely denied any wrongdoings” during a March 2015 press conference. “Let me be very clear, I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” the senator told reporters. “I am not going anywhere.”
Shortly after Menendez’s claim that he was not going anywhere, a federal grand jury in New Jersey returned a 14-count indictment alleging bribery and conspiracy. Dr. Melgen was also named in the indictment.
“The New Jersey Democrat, an influential voice on foreign policy, was accused of using his office to improperly benefit a Florida eye doctor and political donor who provided him with trips aboard his luxury jet,” the Associated Press reported.
Melgen would find himself in more legal trouble the following month when the grand jury piled on an additional 76 counts in a Medicare fraud indictment.
Following a mistrial in the Menendez bribery trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the embattled New Jersey Senator for possible violation of Senate rules, Breitbart News’s Adam Shaw reported.
“Senator Menendez was indicted on numerous federal felonies. He is one of only twelve U.S. Senators to have been indicted in our history,” McConnell said in a statement in November 2017. “His trial shed light on serious accusations of violating the public’s trust as an elected official, as well as potential violations of the Senate’s Code of Conduct.”
The Ethics Committee carried out its investigation and on April 26, 2018, returned an official admonition.
The Washington Post reported that Menendez will not likely face any further sanctions from the Ethics Committee if he repays the gifts as ordered in the letter. However, it does raise issues for the senator’s re-election campaign for a third term.
“The Senate Ethics Committee found what was already crystal clear from Menendez’s criminal trial — Bob Menendez is a crook and an embarrassment,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Bob Salera said.
Senator Menendez’s office did not respond to requests from the Post for comment.