The Justice Department asked a judge Wednesday to toss out its indictment against Sen. Robert Menendez, as anti-corruption prosecutors signaled surrender in the case a week after the judge voided some of the charges.
In a terse filing, federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Court Judge Jose Linares to “dismiss the superseding indictment’’ against Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. Such requests from prosecutors to drop charges are almost always granted.
The move to dismiss charges is a complete reversal by the Justice Department. Only two weeks earlier, prosecutors had filed notice to the court they intended to keep pursuing the case after the first trial ended in a hung jury.
Judge William Walls, who had presided over the first two-month trial, subsequently dismissed 7 of the 18 counts in the indictment, but let stand the 11 remaining charges.
“Given the impact of the court’s Jan. 24 order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges,’’ the Justice Department said in a statement.
Menendez’s first trial ended in a mistrial in November, with 10 of the 12 jurors voting to acquit him, according to a member of the jury.
The retreat on the Menendez case marks a setback for public integrity prosecutors at the Justice Department, as legal experts have questioned whether their authority to pursue such cases will be more limited in the wake of the Menendez mistrial and an earlier Supreme Court ruling.
Menendez, a senior lawmaker, has spent years fighting the charges. Prosecutors said he took gifts from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, including a luxury hotel stay, private jet flights and campaign donations, in exchange for which he tried to help Melgen get U.S. visas for his girlfriends, intervened in the eye doctor’s $8.9 million billing dispute with Medicare and assisted with a port security contract of Melgen’s in the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has long maintained that the government’s charges are an attempt to criminalize a longtime friendship between the two men, and that there was nothing corrupt about his acts on Melgen’s behalf or Melgen’s financial support of the senator.
Judge Walls dismissed the charges involving Menendez’s efforts on Melgen’s behalf in the Medicare billing dispute, and the port security contract.
“The government asks the court and a jury to fashion speculative inferences under the conclusory generalizations of context, chronology, escalation, concealment, and a pattern of corrupt activity — each of which is empty of relevant evidential fact,’’ wrote the judge, quoting writer Gertrude Stein’s famous line, “There is no there there.’’
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