Menendez needs to go
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., is only two indictments short of four-time indicted former President Donald Trump. Previously indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges, Menendez was spared by a hung jury in 2017. His new indictment, even in 2023, still manages to shock.
The Post reports, “Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife Nadine have been indicted on bribery charges, Justice Department officials announced Friday, detailing what officials said was a corrupt scheme involving gold bars, stacks of cash and using the senator’s powerful position to secretly benefit the Egyptian government.”
Some choice details from the indictment: “Over $480,000 in cash — much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe — was found in the home,” in addition to more than $70,000 in the safe-deposit box of Menendez’s wife. And in the sort of tidbit one usually gets only on TV shows, prosecutors say some of the envelopes had the fingerprints or DNA of co-defendant and real estate developer Fred Daibes “or his driver.”
Although Menendez’s indictment compelled him under Senate rules to step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he remains on the committee despite the indictment’s alleging he “provided sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.” Staying on the committee is untenable.
In a statement that, frankly, sounded Trumpian in its grievance and grandiosity, Menendez lashed out at prosecutors and shamefully played the discrimination card. (“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.”) His outrageous accusation ignores five other Latino Americans in the Senate.
The Democratic senator’s indictment refutes the GOP’s enraged allegations — on full display Wednesday in House Republicans’ interrogation of Attorney General Merrick Garland over the indictment of Hunter Biden — that the Justice Department has been “weaponized” against Republicans.
Yet 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.
Democrats, the only party still adhering to minimal standards expected in a democracy, should not stand by Menendez silently. Sure, Republicans have refused to force out Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., the epic fabulist who is facing a 13-count indictment, including for fraud and money laundering, to which he has pleaded not guilty. Yes, Republicans are rallying around Trump (despite the 91 charges he faces in four indictments, all of which he is contesting). But that is precisely why Democrats need to shove Menendez off the political stage. If they want to be the guardians of democracy, the rule of law and truth-telling, they cannot mimic Republicans’ partisan hackery.
Let him fight the charges, as he clearly intends to, but not from a perch on Capitol Hill.
Democrats have risen above partisanship before. During the early stages of the #MeToo movement, Senate Democrats pushed out Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, who resigned in 2017 over conduct that was much less egregious and certainly noncriminal, than that alleged against Menendez. They felt obliged to uphold a standard that Republicans would not. One could argue that they acted too hastily with regard to Franken, but at least they understood that partisanship can be too high a price to pay. If Franken was considered unfit for the Senate, surely they cannot countenance keeping Menendez in their midst.
Even if Menendez does not follow Franken’s example and resign under pressure, Democrats should publicly urge him to get out. Fortunately, New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy wasted little time calling for Menendez to step down since the allegations are “so serious they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state.”
And to be politically crass, there is zero downside for Democrats to insist Menendez go. Murphy would appoint a successor, and the deep blue state would surely elect a Democrat to fill the seat in 2024, when Menendez’s term is up anyway. Why not do the right thing now, and gain some credibility with voters?
By late Thursday afternoon, a batch of Democrats had called on Menendez to resign, including Murphy; Rep. Andy Kim, also of New Jersey; and Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Phillips told CNN: “I’m appalled. Anybody who pays attention, I don’t care your politics, Democrat or Republican, you should be appalled. A member of Congress who appears to have broken the law is someone who I believe should resign.” A group of New Jersey state Democratic politicians soon followed.
This is one of those times when doing the right thing is good politics. Other Democrats should follow the lead of Murphy, Kim and Phillips.