US Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US Justice Department is preparing criminal corruption charges against New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, CNN reported on Friday.
Citing people briefed on the matter, CNN said the charges center on allegations that the senator used his office to promote the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts.
CNN said Attorney General Eric Holder has given the green light for prosecutors to proceed with charges and an announcement could arrive in coming weeks.
A representative for Menendez could not immediately be reached for comment.
Justice Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menendez is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Federal authorities have probed Menendez's relationship with Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, a Democratic donor who has been accused of overbilling the Medicare program.
CNN said the government's case focuses on Melgen and, in part, on plane trips that Menendez took in 2010 to the Dominican Republic as a guest of Melgen.
Prosecutors also are focusing on whether Menendez advocated for Melgen's business interest in a Dominican Republic government contract for airport screening equipment, CNN said.
The senator is best known in Israel as a leading Democratic hawk on Iran sanctions legislation. Menendez is the author of legislation that would trigger new sanctions on Iran if negotiations fail to reach agreement on its nuclear program.
Earlier this week, he harshly criticized the Obama administration's current position in the talks on Monday night as "simply not good enough."
"It is not a good deal if it leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear state, or if Iran decides to kick out inspectors," Menendez told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. "It’s not a good deal if Iran proceeds on a covert path and we have no more than a year to respond. It’s not enough time for us to do anything other than exercise a military option."
The senator, who also supports a new bill that would require a congressional vote of approval for US President Barack Obama to lift US sanctions, took overt swipes at senior administration officials involved in the negotiations.
Criticizing National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who spoke moments before him to the conference, for calling Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington "destructive to the fabric of the relationship" between Israel and the United States, Menendez took issue and said he will be proud to personally escort the premier into the House chamber on Tuesday.
"Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain came to Washington in January – and lobbied Congress against Iran sanctions," he said. "It seems to me that if it’s okay for one prime minister to express his views, it should be good for all prime ministers."Michael Wilner contributed to this report.