Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey Was Charged for Bribery Along With His Wife and Three Other Businessmen
Sometimes, this process of seeking to wring meaning about our values from watching how we conduct ourselves is obvious. Once again, apparently, greed keeps returning as a standing human motivation.
What is most remarkable then about the indictment and downfall of Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat charged along with his wife and three businessmen in a bribery-for-influence scheme, is not the why, but the speed with which his Democratic colleagues have turned on him.
Basically, the people one might expect to stand by him want him out not only of the powerful Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairmanship, which he immediately did to adhere to Senate rules, but out of the Senate – and politics – altogether.
There could be debate over whether it is the perceived political baggage of having gotten caught by investigators with gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash still in envelopes or whether it is because of intended moral outrage about someone who seemingly twice now has been charged with using his office for personal gain. But there appears little question that fellow Democrats want him to face up to charges and get out of politics.
By contrast, of course, we see congressional Republicans dawdling about the political fate of Rep. George Santos, R-NY, the Long Island Republican under 13 federal charges for fraud. Or the insistence on pinning Hunter Biden’s misdeeds on his dad for political gain. And we daily watch the antics of House Republicans to do anything and everything to defend, defray, even threaten prosecution defunding for the defense of Donald Trump, who faces more than 90 indictment counts in four separate state and federal cases.
And, House Republicans, so much for a “weaponized” federal justice system that only pursues Republicans as criminal.
Politics and Personal Gain
We might note that Speaker Kevin McCarthy proves daily that he needs every vote, even from Santos, in his split House, but so do Democrats in the Senate have a need to preserve a one-vote majority.
Of course, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, who called first to oust Menendez, can appoint an interim senator to fill the spot — presumably a Democrat — keeping the current majority in place. In Long Island, removing Santos would result in a special election, with an angry electorate bound to punish any alternative Republican.
Yet, as with former Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat pressured to resign over a far lesser, non-criminal offense of bad behavior, the Democrats seem far more willing to hold to some ethical standards.
Is there something different in the political water that Democrats drink than Republicans? How do we explain this split? There certainly is enough skepticism among American voters to believe the worst from all politicians, that party alignment hardly seems the distinction.
Whether the disclosures come from City Hall, the State House or the Supreme Court these days, we are almost blasé as voters about hearing that some politician has been drinking at the political trough for personal gain. By now, we’re as used to hearing about Congress failing to regulate its members with inside knowledge from buying and selling stock as we are about the errant individual who is found with payoff dollars stuffed in a home freezer.
Indeed, as the Menendez case reflects, this guy was up on charges six years ago, beat that charge on a hung jury, and then allegedly returned to his job to run a yet more complicated international scheme for gain that, according to the indictment, meant sharing information with Egyptian officials that he had no legal, moral, diplomatic or political right to do. We’ve heard that investigators were on his case for months.
The shameless Menendez defense that he is being picked on – because he is Latin-American – came across as weak and self-serving. Hell, he even expects to stand for reelection with this indictment apparently serving as a proud achievement. Sounds awfully like the tortured plaint of a former president caught up with accountability efforts aimed at his own scheming.
As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted, “This is a moment of choosing for Democrats. Unlike their GOP counterparts, they should not feel compelled to cover their eyes and ears when one of their own appears to be caught red-handed.”
And they seem not to be doing so.
Criminal Charges as Politics
Once again, it took exactly zero time for Fox News commentators to link the influence-peddling charge against Menendez to, yes, Hunter Biden and the entire “Biden Crime Family” as if the events, years and oceans apart in origin, had any relationship.
“I think the best thing that can be said of Bob Menendez is, at this point, at least he didn’t set up 20 shell companies to hide the fact he was accepting bribes,” said Fox News contributor Kaylee McGee White, referring to unproven Republican smarmy claims that Hunter Biden was linked to shell companies funded by Russian oligarchs.
There is something absurd about trying to square the Menendez indictment with last week’s vitriolic House Republican interrogation of Attorney General Merrick Garland over a “weaponized” Justice Department. Republican after Republican fired off half-truth barbs against Garland in such rapid fashion as to stop Garland from even being able to respond at several points – even if it were considered appropriate for the attorney general to discuss current, individual criminal cases still facing trial.
Still, there is the obvious coincidence here of a powerful Democratic senator facing criminal charges just as the withering attacks on Garland are still resonating about protecting Democrats to attack Republican officeholders and candidates.
None of the Menendez case sounds like good news.
But the Democrats’ quick turn on Menendez somehow says that there remains a place for ethics in government. Apart from criminal charges, Menendez has lost credibility to work effectively as a senator.