The Justice Department reversed itself and dropped its corruption case against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), removing a huge burden from the senator as he prepares for a reelection campaign, reports Politico. Judge Jose Linares in Newark dismissed all remaining counts less than two weeks after DOJ said it would retry Menendez and his co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, on corruption charges. The decision is a major victory for the Democratic Party, which was facing the prospect of having the 12-year incumbent facing a corruption trial while running for what should be one of its safest Senate seats.
Last week, Judge William Walls damaged the prosecution’s case by acquitting Menendez and Melgen on seven of the 18 corruption counts they had faced during a two-and-a-half-month trial last fall. The trial ended in a hung jury, with one juror telling reporters that 10 of the 12 members of the panel favored acquittal on most counts. Menendez was charged in 2015 with doing official favors for Melgen in exchange for private jet flights, lavish vacations — including luxury hotel stays — and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Federal prosecutors also charged Menendez with willfully leaving Melgen’s gifts off his Senate financial disclosure forms. Wednesday’s DOJ decision to drop the charges stands in stark contrast to its posture two weeks ago, in which it sought to bar Menendez and Melgen from “racializing” the case in the retrial by suggesting they were unfairly targeted because of their shared Hispanic heritage.