Menendez avoids ‘political grave’ with jury mistrial
Newark, N.J. – New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez exited his federal bribery trial after a mistrial Thursday with an eye on a 2018 re-election effort, but with him neither acquitted nor convicted, the cloud from the investigation remains.
The mistrial gave Democrats hoping to hold onto the seat in next year’s midterm elections cause for optimism and spurred Republicans to keep the pressure up. The stakes are high given that Republicans have a narrow 52-48 Senate majority and head into the midterm election under a historically unpopular Republican president.
Menendez, himself, was buoyed by the decision.
“To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you,” Menendez said.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday called on the Ethics Committee to investigate Menendez for possible violations of the public trust and the Senate code of conduct.
“His trial shed light on serious accusations of violating the public’s trust as an elected official, as well as potential violations of the Senate’s Code of Conduct,” McConnell said.
The allegations that Menendez helped his friend and co-defendant Salomon Melgen with a Medicare billing dispute in exchange for luxury trips and campaign donations are likely to be included in attack ads by Republicans running against him.
Half of New Jersey voters said in a poll released in September that Menendez did not deserve re-election and only 31 percent approved of the job he was doing.
While it dragged down his popularity, the more than four-year criminal investigation hasn’t stopped Menendez from raising money and keeping the support of elected Democrats in the state and beyond.
Menendez has raised more than $6 million between a legal defense fund and for his 2018 re-election campaign since he was indicted in April 2015.
Menendez’s senior political adviser Mike Soliman says the two-term incumbent will decide in the coming weeks whether to seek a third term, but that all signs are that he will run.