The following is my analysis of the political options of New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and my assessment of what he is likely to do. This analysis is not to be construed as an opinion of his guilt or innocence; nor is it to be read as a recommendation of what course of action Menendez should take.
Bob Menendez is a warrior, for better or worse, for both good and evil. He has hired as his criminal defense attorney Abbe Lowell, a partner in the renowned Washington law firm of Winston and Strawn.
Lowell is the top ranked criminal defense lawyer for all prominent Democratic political personages facing criminal prosecution. He reportedly bills at a rate of $1500 an hour. If you are a political figure facing gravely serious charges, he is well worth it.
You also do not hire Lowell if you are simply looking to cut your losses and enter into a plea bargain. The hire of Lowell by Menendez is a certain signal of his intention to fight the charges to the end.
The main concern of Menendez is his ability to afford Lowell’s bills. In this regard, Menendez benefits substantially from federal campaign finance law.
As of August, 2023, Menendez had $7.8 million in his campaign account. While Menendez is barred from using his campaign fund for law firm bills related to personal matters, he may use the entire account to pay legal expenses incurred in response to charges of campaign or official misconduct. All three counts of the Menendez indictment relate to official misconduct: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, conspiracy to commit extortion
So the $7.8 million in the Menendez campaign account will go a long way in paying his bills from Winston and Strawn, Abbe Lowell’s law firm. It should be noted that he already used the campaign fund to pay Winston and Strawn bills related to his legal defense in the amount of $127,343.
Attorneys I spoke with estimate that Menendez may incur legal expenses as high as $20 million. So his campaign fund will not be enough to pay his entire anticipated bill from Abbe Lowell. He will have to raise $12-15 million for his legal defense fund.
Menendez will have a difficult time raising this amount from New Jersey sources. He will be reliant in this regard on Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Schumer will have little or no difficulty in raising this amount. He will raise it with the assistance from his allies in the New York City financial community.
Schumer has the same relationship with the New York City financial community that the late Senate Democratic Leader and President Lyndon Johnson once had with Texas oil companies. And as detailed in Robert Caro’s four book series on the life of Lyndon Johnson, LBJ was a master at raising money from Texas oil companies and distributing it to the campaign funds of Senate Democratic candidates friendly to him.
So Schumer will be a godsend to Menendez in his efforts to raise funds for his legal defense. The Senate Democratic leader, however, will exact a price from Menendez. He will demand that Menendez not run for reelection – Schumer cannot afford the risk of Democrats losing the seat. And Menendez will have no choice but to comply and agree not to seek reelection.
There is one person whose political aspirations are doomed by Bob Menendez remaining in the Senate until the expiration of his term in January, 2025: First Lady Tammy Murphy. Her US Senate aspirations are doomed. The only way she could make it to the Senate would be by an appointment by her husband, Governor Phil Murphy, to fill a vacancy created by a Menendez resignation.
In the absence of such a vacancy, Tammy Murphy would have to win a primary against her likely opponent, Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer. And that is not going to happen.
Gottheimer is a political and governmental giant. He has a $30 million federal SuperPAC. His role as the co-chair of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus has given him the ideal political profile in this era of bitter partisan conflict.
Tammy Murphy has been a most admirable New Jersey First Lady, and her involvement in critical issues of public concern is most laudable. But her political and governmental resume pales into insignificance as compared with that of Josh Gottheimer. And the popularity of Governor Phil Murphy, while high among Democrats, is not high enough to pull Tammy Murphy to victory against Josh Gottheimer.
In a primary against Josh Gottheimer, Tammy Murphy has two chances: Slim and none.
In the words of the late, lamented Tonight Show host Jack Paar (this shows how old I am), more to come…
Alan J. Steinberg of Highland Park served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.