People tend to believe the worst about Robert Menendez.
Sure, that can be true with any politician, but it’s more true with New Jersey’s senior senator. This has to have something to do with his Hudson County background and the fact he began his political career almost 50 years ago hitching his wagon to the Union City political machine of Bill Musto. Hint: Musto was not exactly a reformer.
These days many people may not remember, or even care about, that, but history is history and enough people know it.
So, the news this week that Menendez is again being investigated by the feds probably came as, “What else is new” to many observers.
Still, it’s necessary to consider the “facts” before making any judgments. And at the moment, there really aren’t many facts.
Menendez’ latest problems were detailed by Semafor – a new website that has already found a way to get attention.
Their report was rather sparse.
Citing two unnamed sources in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, the news site reported that the Menendez investigation is similar to the 2017 case, but with a different group of people.
In response, an advisor to Menendez said the following:
“Senator Menendez is aware of an investigation that was reported on today, however he does not know the scope of the investigation. As always, should any official inquiries be made, the senator is available to provide any assistance that is requested of him or his office.”
The 2017 case referenced had to do with the indictment of the senator for doing favors for a Florida doctor and friend, Salomon Melgen, in exchange for campaign contributions and a variety of goodies. Menendez went on trial in Newark. but the jury was unable to reach a decision. Afterwards, the feds dropped the case rather than re-try him.
Everyone sees politics in everything, but those going that route in this case may be confused.
It was the Justice Department under Barack Obama that indicted Menendez, but it was the Justice Department under Donald Trump that dropped the charges.
If this case is similar to the earlier one, and if it does indeed move along, we will presumably learn about “favors” the senator allegedly did for whomever.
This gets into a debatable area. Politicians do favors for people all the time.
Which brings us to the Supreme Court’s infamous McDonnell decision involving the now-former governor of Virginia. In overturning his conviction for corruption, the court in 2016 set forth a rather limited interpretation of “official acts” by a public official. The upshot is that it became harder – as we saw in 2017 – to convict an office holder simply for doing favors for a friend if those “favors” are not linked to official acts.
But we are getting far, far ahead of ourselves.
As we wait for more info, it’s reasonable to ask about timing. This report surfaces about two weeks before the midterm election. What effect will it have on the election?
The guess here is no effect at all.
Menendez is not running.
It’s true that his son, Robert Menendez Jr., is seeking a House seat in CD-8. But a Democrat running in a mostly Hudson County district isn’t going to lose.
Moreover, let’s look back four years when Menendez was seeking reelection with his just-ended corruption trial very much in the news. He had no trouble winning.
And way back in 2006, news of another federal investigation surfaced. This one involved Menendez’ ownership of a Union City building that rented space to a non-profit agency that got federal money. This was in the run-up to the 2006 election – Menendez’ first as a candidate for the Senate.
It made no difference; Menendez won easily and that case was eventually dropped.
Yep, people may be quick to think the worst about Menendez, but voters seem to want him in office.