Gov. Phil Murphy says he doesn't know anything about the new federal investigation of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. What he does know is that Menendez is an "incredibly valuable and important partner."
The governor immediately pivoted from a question about the new Menendez investigation — at least the second in the last decade — on Monday night's edition of "Ask Governor Murphy" to sing his fellow Democrat's praises.
"Bob has been, and he continues to be an extraordinary partner," Murphy told WNYC's Nancy Solomon, who hosts the show. "And this whole thing kind of broke last week, a couple of days before [the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy], and Sandy was an appropriate reminder to everybody out there on how important a guy this is."
The news site Semafor.com broke the story of the new investigation last week, quoting anonymous sources saying prosecutors in the Southern District of New York had contacted people who know Menendez. The site also reported there had been at least one subpoena in the case. It said the the outlines of the case were broadly similar to another that ended with a hung jury in 2017, when Menendez was accused of taking flights on a private jet and other luxurious gifts from a Florida eye doctor in exchange for government contracts. The new probe reportedly involves an entirely different cast of people.
The New York Times has also reported the investigation appears related to the FBI search of a New Jersey company that the Egyptian government has given exclusive jurisdiction to certify meat exports to that country as halal, or permissible to eat in the Muslim faith.
Menendez has acknowledged the investigation, but said he doesn't know its scope.
Murphy said he didn't know anything about the investigation itself, other than what he'd read in the news. But in securing federal help for Sandy recovery, Murphy said, "Nobody comes close to what Bob Menendez did, and has been doing since then, including ... today, helping me with a moratorium on clawbacks."
Menendez has been a proponent and sponsor of legislation to forgive "clawbacks" — attempts to recover disaster relief funds, for instance, in a case where a recipient received more than a program was intended to allow.
On COVID recovery, Murphy said, Menendez "was a rock."
"So I just would say I have no insights on the one hand," Murphy said. "On the other hand, he's an incredibly valuable and important partner."
Murphy isn't the only high-profile Democrat to lavish Menendez with praise in the days since news broke of the investigation. At an event to commemorate Sandy's 10th anniversary last week, fellow U.S. Sen. Cory Booker called Menendez "not just a hero for this state, but for Louisiana to Florida, to every community that is suffering the ravages of climate change." At the same event, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone said Menendez was accessible to people suffering after Sandy: "You could just call him up and ask for individual help."
"Ask Governor Murphy" is a production of WBGO in Newark in partnership with WNYC and WHYY. It’s hosted by Nancy Solomon, a senior reporter for WNYC and Gothamist.