WASHINGTON – A filing from New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez confirms for the first time that he is facing inquiries from both the Senate ethics committee and Department of Justice.
The filing came on the same day his office also disclosed that Menendez had accepted a third unpaid-for flight on the private plane of a donor believed to be at the center of the ethics and justice department investigations, this one in 2011.
Menendez, a Democrat, filed papers with the Secretary of the Senate Friday to create a legal expense trust fund, which allows him to raise money beyond normal campaign limits to help pay for legal costs related to investigations involving his office. An affidavit from Menendez confirms the two ongoing investigations.
"This fund is necessited by, and intended to defray, legal expenses and related expenses I incur and am responsible for in connection with legal inquiries, including by the Select Committee on Ethics of the United State Senate and the United State Department of Justice, involving allegations of violations of the Standing Rules and standards of the Senate and Federal Statutes,” Menendez affirms in an affidavit setting up the fund.
Multiple news outlets – most prominently the Washington Post and Miami Herald – have reported that there is a federal grand jury investigation looking into Menendez’s actions and the Post has reported that there has been an ethics committee inquiry.
Those reports have never been officially confirmed by the Justice department or the ethics committee, though they have also never been denied by Menendez’s office.
“We have always said we will welcome any review into the senator’s actions and believe they have been appropriate and believe the facts will confirm that,” Menendez spokeswoman Patricia Enright said Friday.
Menendez's campaign fund paid $250,000 to defense lawyer Stephen Ryan over the last quarter of 2013, in addition to $82,869 paid in June. Those payments covered legal fees for Menendez himself.
His campaign fund also paid a separate law firm, Perkins Coie, $156,240 for legal service related to the inquiries, campaign filings show.
Menendez’s office released information about the creation of the legal expense fund Friday. His office also revealed that Menendez’s campaign fund repaid $11,250 in December for a previously undisclosed flight on the private plane of donor Salomon Melgen – whose ties to Menendez are believed to be at the center of the ongoing probes.
Menendez early last year repaid Melgen $58,500 out of his own pocket for two flights he had taken on Melgen’s private jet. The repayment came after FBI agents raided Melgen’s offices in South Florida.
The newly revealed flight, which ocurred on Jan. 30, 2011, according to Enright, was related to a campaign event and so it was repaid by Menendez's campaign fund.
"Due to an oversight, the campaign did not reimburse Dr. Melgen for the cost of that flight at the time. When that oversight was discovered at the end of 2013, Senator Menendez directed his campaign to immediately reimburse Dr. Melgen $11,250 for the cost of the flight," Enright said in a statement.
Menendez has faced scrutiny over his efforts to help Melgen, an eye doctor, in disputes with the federal government.
We will have more in tomorrow’s Inquirer, on Inquirer.com and Philly.com.