The morning jokes about Goldfinger by noon had hardened into a tougher and more unforgiving alloy, as sources considered the U.S. Attorney’s allegation that U.S. Senator Bob Menendez provided sensitive U.S. information to Egypt.
“The [alleged] selling of information to Egypt takes this to another level,” said a Jersey insider – a Republican.
“Prosecutors said [Wael] Hana, who is originally from Egypt, arranged dinners and meetings between Menendez and Egyptian officials in 2018 at which the officials pressed Menendez on the status of U.S. military aid. In exchange, Hana put Nadine Menendez on his company’s payroll, prosecutors said.
“Egypt at the time was one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid, but the State Department had withheld $195 million in 2017 and canceled an additional $65.7 million until the country could demonstrate improvements on human rights and democracy.
“Menendez at a meeting in 2018 told Hana non-public information about the status of the aid, prosecutors said. Hana then texted an Egyptian official, ‘The ban on small arms and ammunition to Egypt has been lifted,’ according to the indictment.
“Prosecutors said Egypt’s government in 2019 granted one of Hana’s companies an exclusive license to export halal food from the United States to Egypt, despite lacking experience in halal certification. Hana used the proceeds from those exports to fund the bribe payments, according to the indictment.”
The payments totaled over half a million, allegeldy partly paid out in gold bars.
Menendez issued a statement in which he vowed to fight on, but behind-the-scenes fatigue pervaded.
What would Governor Phil Murphy say?
New Jersey Democrats trying to gut through an otherwise fairly uneventful projected low-turnout election cycle didn’t want a bombshell like this going off in the handful of contested battlegrounds.
Moreover, on a national-sized canvas, the party sought to protect its caucus majority in the United States Senate and didn’t want the complication – at the very least – of a courtroom-battling incumbent named Menendez again trying to stay politically alive.
News this week of U.S. Rep. Tom Kean’s (R-7) hypocrisy galvanized party interest in his seat, which just as fast deflated this morning with the Menendez indictment and its conceivable impact on Democrats’ chances to pick up seats in New Jersey.
Republicans began the inevitable attack, and Democrats had not yet devised a counterattack.
“Where the hell is Murphy?” one Democrat wailed.
A source described messaging pushing and shoving behind the scenes, with Hudson itself divided on what to say, between north and south. Murphy’s position on the subject appeared complicated by what sources described as – conceivably – his own interest in the U.S. Senate seat, and the temptation to extend his own power by appointing himself – or his wife – to the seat. These kinds of rumors kick around in these times, but certainly more than one or two county chairs fretted about the potential for a lame duck governor to play havoc with an emergent, bifurcated deal for statewide power.
Weary with Menendez, a handful nonetheless attempted to consider him in tragic terms, the way the Greeks considered tragedy.
For us, tragedy could be an innocent person getting run over by a car.
But to the Greeks – and here, three quarters of the readers of this piece no doubt just bailed in disgust, because no one wants to hear the word tragedy in any form, applied to a contemporary politician – tragedy had a specific meaning.
A man of renown and certain gifts suffers his downfall because of a particular defect.
Even if we don’t think so anymore, that’s what the Greeks thought.
And it’s apparently what some Democrats huddling in the vicinity of Hudson determinedly wanted to think.
Menendez had sufficient stature to make his tumble from grace more than merely NJ gangster movie fodder.
Uniquely substantive on policy, he…
But it lacked power.
The story thus framed fell apart in the glare of the indictment itself.
Innocent until proved guilty.
But the force of the case withered the voices of even the most stalwart backroom Menendez allies.
“I think it’s done this time,” said a catatonic Dem, trying, but finally unwilling to engage in the exercise of a deeper character study with literary flourishes.
At least one Democrat, flailing, tried to spin Menendez’s collapse as a messaging opportunity.
It shows that law enforcement refused to play a political game by either indulging New Jersey’s senior senator when he sought to influence the U.S. Attorney he helped install in his home state, or – in New York – running away from nailing him. Damian Williams’ case against Menendez helps diminish former President Donald Trump’s continuing argument about the unfair weaponization of law enforcement.
They get the goods, they pull the trigger.
Trump can whine about it all he wants.
The simplicity of the indictment in this case hit hard, less like catharsis in Oedipus Rex – because the hero in that case experiences catharsis, to begin with – and more simply and finally like a ton of bricks, or a ton of gold bars.
For the moment Democrats stayed silent, as silent as an Egyptian tomb.
Then, at 5 p.m. of a Friday evening, the tomb creaked open.