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Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey to set up legal defense fund amid criminal probe

The Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee is the focus of a corruption investigation led by the U.S. attorney’s office for Southern New York.
Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on March 7, 2023.
Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks at a Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on March 7.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is paying tens of thousands in legal fees and is setting up a legal defense fund in connection with a federal criminal probe, according to campaign finance records and a spokeswoman for Menendez.

The new filings reveal payments totaling roughly $200,000 to two law firms and a document search company since the beginning of the year.

A spokeswoman declined to provide details about the payments but said Menendez would be establishing a defense fund.

“Senator Menendez is confident that this official inquiry will be successfully closed, but as it is still unresolved he will be opening a separate legal defense fund so as not to drain any further campaign funds,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

Sources have said Menendez is under investigation in connection with a Weehawken, New Jersey, meat company that won an exclusive contract with the government of Egypt to certify halal exports worldwide. Several officials have said owners of the company, IS EG Halal, have given expensive gifts to Menendez’s wife in the past.

NBC News previously reported that dozens of federal grand jury subpoenas were issued in connection with the investigation, led by the U.S. attorney’s office for Southern New York.

Sources have said prosecutors are looking into whether Menendez used his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees $2 billion in aid to Egypt, to help the New Jersey company secure the contract.

Lawyers for the company and a Menendez spokesperson have denied any wrongdoing.

According to recent campaign filings, the Menendez campaign paid $128,000 to the law firm of Winston and Strawn in January. His campaign paid $48,000 to another firm, Schertler and Onorato, in February. 

The law firms did not respond to requests for comment. Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office also declined to comment.

Filings show that Menendez's campaign also paid a total of $55,000 to Haystack, a document search firm, making payments twice in January and twice in March.

Menendez is up for re-election next year. He has served in the Senate since 2006 and previously served in the House.

It is not the first time Menendez has faced scrutiny over possible corruption.

In 2015, Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from allegations that he accepted favors from a wealthy Florida optometrist, including travel, accommodations and political contributions.

The case ended in a mistrial after jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict. Federal prosecutors in 2018 opted not to retry Menendez after a judge overseeing the case tossed out some of the original counts, finding him innocent of charges involving campaign contributions.