During Barack Obama’s second term as president, back in 2015, the Department of Justice brought bribery charges against Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a Democrat. I noted at the time that Menendez had been the victim of “a lot of false accusations, some of them intentionally timed to cause…doubt about his ethics right around election time.” But I warned that the DOJ’s charges must be very serious considering that then-Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, was in position to appoint Menendez’s replacement.
I also predicted based on long observation of politics in my birth state, that any Democrat who came out of the Hudson County machine was trouble, and almost definitely corrupt: “It’s a cesspool up there and has been for more than a hundred years now.” And as to Menendez in particular, I said he was so egregiously wrong about matters concerning Cuba and Iran that progressives should shed no tears for him, especially considering his influence on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Even before these charges, progressives should have been treating Menendez as a Liebermanesque persona non grata within the Democratic Party.
If he’s convicted of being a crook, that’ll just make our job easier. But even if he beats this rap, he needs to go. He’s horrible.
Ultimately, Menendez did beat the rap, thanks to a hung jury that caused a mistrial. He was greatly aided by “a 2016 Supreme Court ruling [that] significantly raised the bar for prosecutors who try to pursue corruption cases against elected officials.” That ruling convinced the Trump-era DOJ not to retry the case.
Now he’ll get to see if he can pull off another magic trick, as the DOJ of a second incumbent Democratic president has just brought a brutal three-count federal indictment that also targets his wife and three businessmen, accusing “him of using his official position in a wide range of corrupt schemes.”
It doesn’t look good, at all.
In one, he sought to secretly provide Egypt with sensitive U.S. government information, prosecutors said. In two others, he aimed to influence criminal investigations of two New Jersey businessmen, one of whom was a longtime fund-raiser for Mr. Menendez…
…In another scheme, Mr. Menendez used his position to try to disrupt an investigation and prosecution by the New Jersey State attorney general’s office, according to the indictment…
…In exchange for all those actions, the indictment said, the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, accepted cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, a luxury vehicle and other valuable things.
“Constituent service is part of any legislator’s job — Senator Menendez is no different,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference announcing the charges. He said that Mr. Menendez’s Senate website explicitly states the kinds of services he would not provide because they are be improper.
“Behind the scenes, Senator Menendez was doing those things for certain people — the people who were bribing him and his wife,” he said.
And, yeah, I have to admit we’ve been here before and the DOJ couldn’t make the charges stick. But don’t you think they’d be very reluctant to repeat that performance? Don’t you think the evidence this time must be of the most distilled and pure slam dunk variety?
Devastating evidence in Menendez indictment.
"Over $480,000 in cash—much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe—was discovered in the home … Some of the envelopes contained the fingerprints and/or DNA of" co-defendant making alleged bribes. pic.twitter.com/IMmXkzF4cO
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) September 22, 2023
Back in 2015, I said we shouldn’t cry for Bob Menendez. I say the same thing now. He should resign, but he probably won’t for the same reason Trump is running for president. It’s harder to convict an active politician than a former one, plus resignation comes off like an acknowledgment of guilt.
On the other hand, the evidence here is bad and involves his wife. A plea deal might realistically be the best they can do. And not that I expect it to be a consideration for him, but there’s a Democratic governor of New Jersey this time around so resignation wouldn’t cost the party a crucial seat in the Senate.
As a final note, the fact that Menendez beat the rap once and kept taking bribes speaks to his basic character. Good riddance, whenever he finally leaves the Senate.