Republican senators criticize Justice Department over Menendez case

Des Moines, Iowa CNN —  

Several leading Republican senators, who are exploring presidential runs, are criticizing the Justice Department over its handling of the case regarding their Democratic colleague, Robert Menendez.

CNN’s Justice Reporter Evan Perez was the first to report Friday the department was preparing to bring corruption charges against Menendez. The government is expected to bring criminal charges alleging the second term New Jersey Democrat used his Senate office to push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts.

READ: Menendez says he’s ‘not going anywhere’

People briefed on the case told Perez Attorney General Eric Holder has signed off on prosecutors’ request to proceed with charges. An announcement could come within weeks. Prosecutors are under pressure in part because of the statute of limitations on some of the allegations.

The Justice Department has not officially commented on the status of the case, and Holder refused to comment on it to reporters Friday afternoon.

During an appearance at an agricultural summit in Des Moines, Iowa, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised questions about why the news of the pending indictment was coming out now.

“The timing seems awfully coincidental that in the week when Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington, spoke in Congress about the enormous threat of President Obama’s misguided deal with Iran that is opening the door to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and in the very week when Bob Menendez showed incredible courage to speak out and call out President Obama for the damage that his policy was doing to our national security that coincidence is troubling,” Cruz said.

SEE ALSO: Menendez: White House’s least favorite Dem

Menendez is one of the leaders in the Senate pushing stronger sanctions against Iran and raising questions about the efforts by the U.S. and Europeans to reach a deal over Tehran’s nuclear program – positions at odds with the Obama administration.

Cruz said he saw some political payback.

“It raises a suggestion to other Democrats that if you dare part from the Obama White House that criminal prosecutions will be used potentially as a political weapon against you as well that’s a serious concern,” he said.

The Texas Republican criticized the Justice Department several times for announcing a pending indictment this past week.

“This investigation has been going on for over a year and yet the very week they announce a pending indictment comes within hours after Sen. Menendez showing courage to speak out against President Obama’s dangerous foreign policy,” he said.

While appearing at the same event, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, also suggested that there were political motivations by the administration regarding the case.

“They leaked a story about an impending indictment right after the [American Israeli Public Affairs Committee] conference, right after Bob Menendez said, to his great credit, stood up and said I want to look at any deal you with Iran,” he said. “As to Bob Menendez, like every other American, he’s innocent until proven otherwise. He’s a friend. But this whole behavior around the Obama administration regarding the law is very disturbing.”

Menendez defended himself Friday night telling reporters he has “always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” adding, “I am not going anywhere.”

The Justice Department did not have a comment on the criticism leveled on Saturday, but department officials have historically defended their actions saying they do not take the politics of specific individuals into account when deciding who to charge and when.

There was a brief look into the government’s investigation when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals last week briefly posted, apparently by accident, documents detailing legal efforts to block certain evidence and testimony the government wants to use. Those documents were quickly put back under seal, but not before a reporter with the New Jersey Law Journal published a story.

CNN’s Evan Perez contributed to this report.