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Politics

After Hung Jury, Sen. Menendez Gets Committee Chair Back

February 7, 2018

Benefiting from Congressional rules, New Jersey US Sen. Bob Menendez has been reinstated as the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, after a Federal jury had deadlocked on corruption charges that he was facing.

After prosecutors had decided against re-trying him, Menendez got his seat back but he’s still facing a probe from the Ethics Committee on charges of violating rules for not disclosing gifts he received from an eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, which brought the corruption charges he was trying to help his donor in disputes with Federal regulators.

If he had been found guilty in court, he could have faced expulsion, a penalty unlikely even if the Ethics Committee founds he had had broken the body’s rules and committed wrongdoing over the gifts and political donations. Menendez and Melgen denied they had broken any laws.

A judge threw out the bribery counts related to Melgen’s campaign donations. Eleven charges remained before the decision, including bribery, fraud and conspiracy.

Defense lawyers had argued Melgen’s donations had to be tied to specific acts by Menendez to be considered bribes. That’s a higher standard than the one applied to gifts Melgen gave to Menendez over the years that are the basis for the bribery charges that remain.

U.S. District Judge William Walls’ ruling essentially overrode the jury, which couldn’t reach a verdict after several days of deliberations in November.

After the mistrial, several jurors said as many as 10 of the 12 panel members were in favor of acquittal, leading some experts to speculate the government wouldn’t pursue a retrial.

Menendez, the longest-serving Cuban-American in the Senate, is a noted firebrand against Republican US President Donald Trump and gives the Democrats another weapon in their battles against him.

He had given up his committee seat three years ago when he was indicted on the corruption charges, which he steadfastly denied as the case built against him and as the jury reportedly found it was unconvincing and not linked to any political favors.

He is a long-standing champion of Greek-American issues and causes as well with ties to the community and supporter of annual resolutions recognizing Greek Independence Day and other issues important to the Diaspora.

Menendez’s reinstatement moves Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) to the ranking-Democrat post on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) coordinated the announcement with the two Senators.

Schumer, who has gone head-to-head and toe-to-toe with Trump, said he was glad to have an ally back, and with his back.

“As Senator Menendez resumes his role … 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,” Schumer 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,” he added.

“I am honored to resume my position as Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” said Senator Menendez.

“At a time of immense global challenges, I will make certain the Committee holds President Trump and his Administration accountable for its capricious and erratic approach to foreign policy. Now more than ever, I believe that Congress must assert its role in pursuing a robust American foreign policy that champions the values of democracy, peace, and the preservation of human rights around the globe,” he said.

Menendez signaled he would go right at Trump again and assailed the President’s policies, particularly in international affairs.

“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,” he said.

“Since President Trump took office, I have consistently expressed my deep concerns over several pressing foreign policy issues including his refusal to counter Russia’s aggressions and coordinated interference in democratic systems and elections around the world, a seemingly blatant disregard for advocating for basic human rights and upholding freedoms for all people around the globe, and the total absence of a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s ongoing destabilizing activities,” he added.

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