Politics

Cleared of Corruption Charges, Robert Menendez Regains Top Foreign Relations Post

New Jersey Democrat stepped aside in 2015 after indictment

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez will resume his duties as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee after being cleared in his federal corruption case. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. Robert Menendez is resuming his duties as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, with the Senate Democratic Conference reaffirming his position now that he has been cleared of federal corruption charges. The New Jersey Democrat might not be out of the woods yet, though, because the Senate Ethics Committee is free to look into his case now that federal prosecutors are done with him. 

According to multiple Democratic senators, the conference acted to restore Menendez’s position during Tuesday’s policy lunch.

“I am honored to resume my position as Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Now more than ever, it is critical that the United States remains fully engaged across the globe and that we project the principles of our democratic ideals as we confront the emerging threats and demands we face under the Trump Administration,” Menendez said in a statement.

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He stepped aside temporarily from the ranking member slot in 2015 after his indictment.

The government moved to drop remaining charges against Menendez last week, after the federal judge overseeing the case entered acquittals on seven of the 18 charges in the indictment against Menendez and his co-defendant, South Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen.

That appeared to be a turning point for federal prosecutors, even though U.S. District Judge William Walls left the rest of the government’s case intact. “Given the impact of the Court’s Jan. 24 Order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges,” Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said in a statement.

Walls declared a mistrial in November after individually interviewing members of the jury after it deadlocked. Shortly thereafter, the Senate Ethics Committee issued a statement indicating it planned to resume its review of Menendez’s conduct.

“In 2012, the Committee initiated a preliminary inquiry into alleged misconduct by Senator Robert Menendez. In early 2013, consistent with its precedent and in consideration of the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation, the Committee deferred its inquiry. At this time, the Committee intends to resume its process,” Ethics members said in a statement at the time. 

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland became ranking member after Menendez stepped down. In his statement, Menendez thanked him for his service.

“As our Ranking Member, Senator Cardin has always been upfront, forthright, and unwavering in defending America’s diplomatic community and our foreign policy agenda. I join my colleagues in commending him for his exceptional leadership and I look forward to continuing to work with him on the issues he has championed over the past several years,” Menendez said.

Cardin will now return to his prior position as ranking Democrat on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer formally announced both moves, alluding in his statement that much had changed since Menendez first stepped aside.

“Americans will be able to count on the fact that he, as Ranking Member, has the expertise and grit needed to strike bipartisan compromises as well as stand up to the President when his rash decisions impact our national security and our allies abroad,” the New York Democrat said. “Senator Menendez knows how to hold this Administration’s feet to the fire, and I have every confidence that he’ll be steadfast in his efforts to hold this President accountable for the foreign policy choices he makes that affect the safety and security of every American.”

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