WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Menendez, under federal investigation for his relationship with a Florida doctor and political donor, is expected to face criminal charges in the coming weeks, a person familiar with the matter said Friday.
The disclosure came as Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he will answer questions from reporters in his home state after his office issued a statement saying all of his actions have been appropriate and lawful.
The person who disclosed the expected filing of charges did so on condition of anonymity because it is a pending investigation.
The Justice Department’s decision to move forward with a criminal case was first reported by CNN.
Attorney General Eric Holder declined to say Friday if he has authorized criminal charges against the senator.
Menendez has been under a corruption investigation in a long-running probe stemming from his relationship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist as well as a friend and political donor.
Last week, it was reported that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judge’s ruling and ordered a hearing to determine if two of Menendez’s aides should be compelled to testify before a grand jury about the senator’s efforts on behalf of Melgen.
The New Jersey Law Journal reported that the appeals court identified two issues in question: a billing dispute Melgen had with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a deal he had to sell port screening equipment to the government of the Dominican Republic.
The aides have declined to testify about some actions they took, citing a constitutional provision saying a lawmaker can’t be questioned about legislative acts anywhere except in Congress. A U.S. District judge ruled previously they should testify because their actions weren’t legislative in nature, the journal reported. It said the 3rd Circuit Court disagreed and the question remains unresolved.
Holder declined to answer questions after an appearance with President Barack Obama at a black college in South Carolina. “I can’t comment on that,” he said.
Menendez’s spokeswoman, Tricia Enright, earlier issued a statement saying “any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason.”
She said Menendez and Melgen have long been friends and attended one another’s family events and exchanged personal gifts.
“We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited. We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously,” Enright added.
Questions about Menendez’s ties to Melgen have dogged the senator for more than two years.
He has faced questions about trips he took to the Dominican Republic aboard Melgen’s private plane. He has acknowledged taking several actions that could have appeared to benefit Melgen, including contacting the Medicare agency to urge changes to a payment policy that had cost Melgen millions.
Menendez has reimbursed Melgen for three plane trips. Last year, the senator disclosed that his campaign accounts had paid a law firm $250,000 for legal costs related to Justice Department and Senate Ethics Committee investigations of his ties to the Floridian.
For his part, Melgen earned renewed scrutiny when government data last year showed he had gotten more money in Medicare reimbursements in 2012 than any other doctor in the country.
Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Columbia, S.C., Erica Werner in Washington and Dave Porter in Newark, N.J., contributed to this story.