WASHINGTON ― An incumbent Democratic senator is on trial this week on charges of federal bribery, and his colleagues in the Senate would rather not talk about it.
Federal prosecutors alleged Wednesday that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) entered into a “corrupt pact” with wealthy donor and longtime friend Dr. Salomon Melgen. They said the senator received luxurious vacations abroad, flights on the Florida eye doctor’s private jet and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, and that none of the gifts were disclosed on Menendez’s annual financial disclosure forms as required by law.
In return, prosecutors alleged, Menendez helped Melgen expedite visa applications so his foreign girlfriends could visit him in the U.S. They claimed in a court filing on Wednesday that the relationship dated back at least as far as 2006, shortly after Menendez entered the Senate.
“This is what bribery looks like,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Koski said Wednesday as the government made its case. “These two defendants corrupted one of the most powerful offices in our country. The defendants didn’t just trade money for power, they also tried to cover it up.’’
“Senator Menendez was Salomon Melgen’s personal United States senator,” Koski added.
Both Menendez and Melgan, who was also present at the trial on Wednesday, have denied the allegations.
“Never, not once, not once have I dishonored my public office,” Menendez said Wednesday, as he struggled to hold back tears. “I started my public career fighting corruption, that’s how I started, and I have always acted in accordance with the law and I believe when all of the facts are known, I will be vindicated.”
Menendez’s defense attorneys argued on Thursday that the government’s bribery case against the senator and Melgen, who was born in the Dominican Republic, represented an “attack” on Hispanic-Americans.
The details surrounding the trial, as well as Melgen’s reported ties to former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), present an embarrassing distraction for Democrats on Capitol Hill. They are trying to focus on pressing issues, such as providing legal status to young undocumented immigrants and the tax reform debate.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck…