by Eli Clifton
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), freshly cleared of corruption charges following the Justice Department’s decision to drop charges against him, is set to return to his job as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez is known as one of the most hawkish Democrats in the Senate. He opposed the Iran nuclear deal. He also supported the nomination of David Friedman, Trump’s highly controversial pick to be U.S. ambassador to Israel (Friedman compared the left-leaning Jewish American group J Street to “kapos” and advocated for Israeli annexation of the West Bank).
But an unexpected person played a small role in Menendez’s return to the Senate and is probably celebrating the DOJ’s decision to drop the 2015 charges against the Senator.
Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam each contributed the maximum allowable amount, $10,000 each, to Menendez’s legal defense fund. That’s a bit surprising considering that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson are the biggest source of funding to groups supporting Trump’s candidacy. They reportedly gave about $35 million to the Future 45 Super PAC that support Trump’s general election bid and contributed more than $80 million to help elect Republicans in 2016.
Sheldon Adelson has been clear about what he expects for his money. He pushed Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, lobbying Trump inside the White House and in the pages of the Las Vegas Review Journal, which the Adelsons own.
And Steve Bannon, according to Michael Wolff, suggested that Adelson played a central role in determining the Trump administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, described a dinner attended by Roger Ailes two weeks before Trump’s inauguration:
Pivoting from Trump himself, Bannon plunged on with the Trump agenda. “Day one we’re moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all-in. Sheldon”—Adelson, the casino billionaire and far-right Israel defender—“is all-in. We know where we’re heading on this…Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying.”
“Where’s Donald on this?” asked Ailes, the clear implication being that Bannon was far out ahead of his benefactor.
“He’s totally onboard.”
Indeed, the Adelsons must have seen something unusual in Menendez, a Democrat, for them to briefly cross party lines and offer financial assistance for his legal defense.
Trump’s Justice Department, for its part, hasn’t been above quietly settling charges against possible allies. As LobeLog editor John Feffer wrote on Thursday morning, the DOJ mysteriously settled the case against a Russian investor with an interesting tie to the Trump administration. Feffer wrote:
Consider the case of Prevezon. It’s a Russian holding company that has laundered huge amounts of money through properties in New York City. It’s also part of the tax fraud case that accountant Sergei Magnitsky discovered that got him thrown into a Russian jail, where he died under mysterious circumstances. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York was preparing to throw the book at Prevezon.
Then, a couple months after the Trump administration took office, the case magically disappeared. The Trump administration dismissed the U.S. attorney who was pursuing the case, and the Sessions Justice Department rushed to settle the case for an absurdly low $6 million penalty (the Attorney’s Office was seeking $230 million) and without any admission of wrongdoing. The Russian lawyer representing Prevezon was delighted, calling the Justice Department decision “an apology from the government.”
And the name of the Russian lawyer? Natalia Veselnitskaya. Sound familiar? She’s the one who promised Donald Trump Jr. some dirt on Clinton and participated in the infamous meeting at Trump tower in June 2016.
The decision to drop charges against Menendez doesn’t necessarily mean a quid pro quo was reached between Adelson, Trump, and Menendez in which Menendez would back Adelson’s hawkish foreign policy positions in the Senate. But the coincidence of Menendez receiving assistance for his legal defense from the man the president most owes for funding his presidential ambitions does raise some interesting questions about the decision-making process the Justice Department followed to let Menendez off the hook.
One thing is clear. Menendez now owes a debt to the Adelsons—and to whoever was responsible for the DOJ dropping the corruption case it spent years developing.
Photo: Robert Menendez (U.S. Embassy Kyiv via Flickr).