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Today's Corruption News, Part I: Bob Menendez

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) continues to make plenty of the wrong kind of headlines. And he continues to rage against the machine, and to claim that there must be some misunderstanding, there must be some kind of mistake.

To start, the Senator insists that he will not resign. He also offered up a defense of himself that, well, plays the race card. Or, maybe more accurately, one culture card and one race card. The culture card is his explanation for why he had nearly half a million dollars in gold and cash in his house. He said that because his family once lived in Cuba, he has a fear of wealth being seized by the government, and the only insurance policy is not to trust banks with all your assets. If that is true, well, it certainly didn't work out, now did it? Since, you know, the government... seized all that money and gold. Of course, we find this explanation to be highly dubious.

As to the race card, Menendez explained that the reason that he's been indicted twice is that he's being targeted by a shadowy cabal, and "Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino-American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction." Curious, since nobody seems to have indicted first-generation Latino-American senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL) or Alex Padilla (D-CA). In other words, we are once again skeptical. And, in fact, this explanation doesn't even pass the smell test with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who said that while there are certainly barriers for Latinos and Latinas who wish to enter politics, phony indictments from anti-Latino racists are not among them.

The bottom line is that the Senator has had several days to come up with plausible explanations for the publicly known facts of his case, and this is the best he's come up with. That does not bode well for an acquittal. However, he's probably telling the truth that he has no plans to quit. He's famous for being stubborn, and even if he has to spend all his time working on his defense, why not collect that U.S. senator's salary while doing so? After all, his petty cash (and his petty gold bars) is no longer available.

The only way Menendez resigns is if he thinks he's going to be expelled anyhow. Thus far, there is only very slight movement in that direction, as the only people who matter for this purpose are his 99 colleagues. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) was the first to call for Menendez to hit the road. Yesterday, he was joined by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Peter Welch (D-VT). Three is a long way from 50, though Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also said Menendez probably needs to go. That opinion might open a few eyes, we suppose.

That said, now that we've had time to consider the matter carefully, we'll point out a few things we think are worth considering:

  1. Yesterday, we pointed out that many senators jumped all over Al Franken when he was accused of sexual misconduct, but many of those same senators have been reticent to call for Menendez' resignation. Without getting into a comparison of whether sexual misconduct or gross corruption is the worse offense, maybe there isn't as much an incongruity as it seems. This isn't our original idea (see here for one source that is saying it), but with personal misconduct like Franken's, the Senate is the only entity with the power to hold a member accountable. Either the senators do something, or nothing gets done. By contrast, with an indictment, there is another entity that might hold a senator accountable, namely the courts. It is perhaps understandable that the senators might view themselves as the first and only line of defense in the former case, but only the second line of defense in the latter.

  2. On a related point, one can understand why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is not eager to establish a precedent that indictment triggers an automatic expulsion. Imagine what a DoJ led by Ken Paxton or Jim Jordan, coupled with a Senate majority led by Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or John Cornyn (R-TX), might potentially do with that. "You are hereby charged with the crime of being a Democratic senator in a state where a Republican governor chooses the replacement, Sens. Brown, Kaine, Warner, and Shaheen." If you think this is paranoia, you might want to go back and reread "Trump v2.0" from yesterday.

  3. Although Democrats don't want this millstone around their necks, Menendez has been abandoned by the entire New Jersey Democratic establishment, and is not going to be renominated. That means the blue team will be rid of him by June of next year, well before the general election, and then can spend the next 5 months talking about how one party gets rid of their crooks, while the other nominates them for president.

So, we don't think that, barring new revelations, the critical mass of Democrats needed to eject Menendez will be reached. But, having had time to consider the matter, we also don't think it's the political disaster for the blue team that it initially seemed, or that it's likely to put the seat in jeopardy. (Z)

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