Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has received at least a temporary reprieve from serious ethics charges by virtue of a hung jury.
Menendez was accused of corruption for accepting gifts from wealthy Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in exchange for favors. The gifts included campaign donations, private jet flights and a stay at a luxury hotel, and in return, Menendez was accused of helping Melgen with a billing dispute with Medicare, a port security contract and getting American visas for his girlfriends.
The hung jury occurred on Thursday after the presiding judge met with the foreman and at least one other juror in his chambers, according to The Washington Post. U.S. District Court Judge William Walls denied a prosecutor's request that jurors be told they could reach verdicts on individual counts even if they were unable to do so on all of them. This came after the jury informed the judge in a note that they could not reach a unanimous decision.
The mistrial will raise fresh questions about a Supreme Court ruling that vacated a conviction against former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, one that critics claimed made it harder to convict politicians of corruption because it severely limited what could be considered to be criminal.
"It’s now clear that, following the Supreme Court’s disastrous McDonnell decision, it has become significantly harder to convict an elected official of corruption," Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.
He added, "There is a real fear that unless corruption laws are strengthened to fill the significant holes that the Supreme Court has created, the days of seeing corrupt politicians behind bars may be past. Congress needs to take action to ensure elected officials are held accountable when they serve themselves rather than the people."
Because the Justice Department will not want to set a precedent that makes it harder to convict public officials of corruption, it is entirely possible that they will start a new trial against Menendez.