Looks like that pushback on the prostitution angle of the Robert Menendez scandal didn’t cut him any slack with federal prosecutors. The Washington Post reported early this morning that a federal grand jury in Miami has begun a probe of the new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, putting the Democrat in a tough spot at the beginning of his tenure:
A federal grand jury in Miami is investigating Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), examining his role in advocating for the business interests of a wealthy donor and friend, according to three people aware of the probe.
Menendez has intervened in matters affecting the financial interests of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, seeking to apply pressure on the Dominican government to honor a contract with Melgen’s port-security company, documents and interviews show. Also, Menendez’s office has acknowledged he interceded with federal health-care officials after they said that Melgen had overbilled the U.S. government for care at his clinic. …
Last month, people with knowledge of the case said FBI agents were conducting interviews in the Dominican Republic and the United States concerning allegations against Menendez, including the role he played in advocating for the enforcement of the port-security contract. A grand jury probe, which involves a prosecutor pursuing allegations with an eye toward possible indictment, typically represents a legal escalation, though it does not always lead to a prosecution.
As part of the grand jury investigation, the three people said, federal agents have questioned witnesses about the interactions between Menendez and Melgen, who contributed $700,000 last year to Menendez and other Senate Democrats. The grand jury has also issued subpoenas for Melgen’s business and financial records, according to two people briefed on the probe who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation.
Menendez told the Post, “I welcome any review,” but let’s be serious. The “review” first took the form of a federal investigation, which no one welcomes. If investigators take the evidence to a federal grand jury, they’re not looking for a clarification or to produce an independent exoneration. Law enforcement can end investigations on their own if they don’t find any reasons to continue them. The fact that they have gone to a grand jury — and after only a month of investigating Menendez — says that this is not just a review, but a plan to get an indictment.
Al Hunt, writing from the left at Bloomberg, warned even before the grand jury involvement that Democrats shouldn’t let Menendez take the Foreign Relations Committee down with him:
Senate Democrats have a problem called Robert Menendez. It may mean the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which the lawmaker heads, will be unable to play an important and much-needed role of overseer. …
Foreign Relations seems destined for a return to the days of ineffective chairmen such as Claiborne Pell, a Democrat, or polarizing ones such as Jesse Helms, a Republican, even though the current senior minority member, Bob Corker of Tennessee, is willing to work with Democrats.
That’s unfortunate. Although no administration believes it, it’s healthy when Congress keeps its feet to the fire, not with cheap shots — as with the Benghazi imbroglio — but in a serious fashion, by broadening the discussion about major geopolitical concerns, certainly war and peace.
Instead, the recent warnings of former Senator Jim Webb in National Interest magazine probably will resonate: “On the issues of who should decide when and where to use force and for how long, and what our country’s long-term relations should consist of in the aftermath, Congress is mostly tolerated and frequently ignored.”
The question will be whether Senate Democrats care to participate in effective oversight of the Obama administration in any context. So far Harry Reid has done nothing to suggest that he’s interested in that role, and the longer that Menendez runs Foreign Relations, the clearer that becomes.