Justice Department drops charges in Menendez retrial

Case dismissed. That bombshell in the federal case against New Jersey’s senior U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. The U.S. Department of Justice has abruptly dropped its plan to retry him on bribery and corruption charges.

It was just 12 days ago that the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would retry Menendez. But then last week, federal judge William Walls dismissed seven of the original 18 counts against the senator and his co-defendant.

That “took the heart out of the government’s case,” according to defense attorney Joseph Hayden.

So now, the government is dropping the case entirely. The DOJ issued a one-sentence statement that said, “Given the impact of [Judge Walls’] 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.”

This means Menendez can run for re-election this year without the albatross of a second criminal trial hanging around his neck.

The senator was out of state Wednesday, but his office issued a statement that said, “From the very beginning, I never wavered in my innocence and my belief that justice would prevail. I am grateful that the Department of Justice has taken the time to reevaluate its case and come to the appropriate conclusion.”

Menendez’s first trial resulted in a hung jury. Ten of the 12 jurors reportedly favored acquittal. The case was about trading campaign contributions for officials favors, which the government called bribery. After 11 weeks, it ended in November in a mistrial.

Raymond M. Brown, one of Menendez’s defense lawyers said, “Nothing but praise for the Department of Justice, which … made a wise, fair, and just decision. Now Bob Menendez can return to what he does best — serving the people of New Jersey.”

So, no retrial for Menendez. Politicians thinking of running against him, in the primary or the general election, are recalibrating.