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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Sen. Robert Menéndez faces a new federal investigation

By Tracey Tully, Benjamin Weiser and William K. Rashbaum

Five years after standing trial on corruption charges, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is again being scrutinized by federal authorities, an adviser said earlier this week.

“Sen. Menendez is aware of an investigation,” said Michael Soliman, a New Jersey political consultant who managed two of Menendez’s Senate campaigns. “However, he does not know the scope of the investigation.”

Soliman said Menendez, the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would cooperate “should any official inquiries be made.”

“The senator is available to provide any assistance that is requested of him or his office,” Soliman said in an email.

The new investigation, by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, is centered around one of Congress’ most powerful members and a fixture in the civic life in New Jersey who rose from the tough political world of Union City.

But the nature and extent of the investigation, which was first reported early Wednesday by Semafor, is unclear. A spokesperson in Menendez’s Senate office referred questions to Soliman. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

One person who said he was subpoenaed, Antranig “Andy” Aslanian Jr., a lawyer based in Fort Lee, New Jersey, said in an interview Wednesday evening that he and his own lawyer met with three prosecutors from the Southern District about 2 1/2 months ago.

Based on the questions he was asked, Aslanian, 83, said he concluded that the investigators were interested in the senator’s interactions with people that he also knew. The investigators also asked about a company authorized to certify halal meat for export, which Aslanian had helped a friend incorporate.

Aslanian, who said he had known Menendez casually for years, said he was aware of at least two other people who were also subpoenaed. He said he had not heard from prosecutors since the meeting.

“Not a peep,” he said.

The new investigation comes seven years after Menendez’s political dealings first faced law enforcement scrutiny.

In 2015, Menendez, then in his second term as senator, was indicted on bribery charges in what prosecutors said was a scheme to trade political favors for luxury vacations, golf outings, campaign donations and expensive flights. Two years later, after nine weeks of testimony, a federal jury was unable to reach a verdict, and the judge declared a mistrial.

As prosecutors were preparing to retry the case, the judge acquitted Menendez and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen, of seven of the 18 corruption charges they faced.

The Justice Department dropped its case against Menendez.

Melgen, a prominent Florida ophthalmologist and close friend of Menendez, had already been convicted of running a scheme to defraud Medicare of more than $90 million; former President Donald Trump commuted Melgen’s sentence in his final days in the White House.

Menendez had risen from the fractious world of local politics in Union City into state government, was elected to the U.S. House in 1992 and was appointed to the Senate in 2006 after Jon Corzine resigned to become governor. His seat had seemed secure until he faced corruption charges. Three years later, he faced an unexpectedly competitive race for reelection.

Even after an admonishment from a Senate panel for accepting gifts from Melgen, Menendez emerged as one of the most powerful Democratic members of Congress.

Last year, when Rep. Albio Sires indicated that he would not run for reelection in Menendez’s former House district, the senator’s son, who has never held elected office, was immediately put forth as a replacement. Rob Menendez Jr., 37, was endorsed by a cascade of powerful New Jersey Democrats even before he announced his candidacy.

The younger Menendez, a lawyer appointed as a commissioner with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is considered a heavy favorite for the seat in the 8th Congressional District, where there are five times as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

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