Bob Menendez Is in Real Trouble

I can’t say I enjoyed reading the U.S. attorneys’ trial brief for their prosecution of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. But that’s what I spent a good part of my morning doing. I was already familiar with the general outlines of their case, but now I have a sense of how strong their evidence will be at trial. The evidence looks very formidable and I don’t anticipate that the senator will be winning an acquittal.

Of course, I am not a lawyer and the prosecutions’ trial brief only presents one side of the story. On the other hand, the brief does spend considerable time anticipating likely avenues of defense, and they look well prepared to shoot down all of Menendez’s efforts to explain away his behavior. Some people think the bribery case will be hard to prove, but a conviction on failure to disclose gifts seems inevitable.

My best guess is that at the conclusion of this trial Menendez will be convicted of all of it, and then will likely be forced to resign his seat in the Senate. The political implications of this are somewhat terrifying.

The trial is set to begin on September 6th. If it ends, as expected, before a new (likely Democratic) governor is elected in New Jersey and sworn in, then Republican Gov. Chris Christie will make an interim appointment to the Senate and increase the size of the GOP’s caucus by one. Christie, who has about 138 days left to serve, says he won’t appoint himself, which is I guess some small comfort. But we shouldn’t forget that the Obamacare repeal effort failed by a single vote.

You shouldn’t completely panic on that score, however, for a couple of reasons. First, there were potentially more votes against the health care repeal in the Senate, but some senators hid under McCain’s skirt. If the whole thing is replayed and another ‘no’ vote becomes necessary, it’s not unlikely that it will be found.

Second, if the Senate passes a new budget it will obliterate the old budget. That means that the health care bill can only be brought back again under the budget reconciliation rules so long as Congress hasn’t moved on to tax reform. In layman’s terms, if they want a second bite at the health care bill apple, they’ll have to hold off on doing a new budget. And a new budget is a prerequisite for passing a tax reform or even a tax cut with a bare majority.

Still, the possibility exists that Obamacare repeal could return like a zombie and actually succeed in passing the Senate.

In that case, the fallback will be an inability of the House and Senate to come together on a bill they can agree to. I believe the House would have failed to pass the Senate bill as is, even if McCain had voted for it, but that isn’t a certainty.

Given the stakes, I’d like to be able to put in a good word for Menendez, but I can’t. Whether the prosecutors prove their entire case or not, Menendez’s behavior was contemptible and corrosive to the public’s faith in their government. He should resign for the good of the institution he serves and the party he represents.

And, speaking selfishly, as a New Jersey born-and-bred Democrat—now living in Pennsylvania—I have had more than my fill of corrupt Garden State Democrats. I’ve never been a fan of Menendez and have disagreed vociferously with his foreign policy stances on Iran and Cuba, and in some instances Israel. But that’s not my reason for wanting to see him made an example of. We need politicians with some personal rectitude and the good sense to treat their positions with reverence rather than as an opportunity to travel on private jets and stay in the swankiest Parisian hotels and Dominican resorts.

His behavior ought the be punished. But I don’t think it’s wrong of me to hope that the process takes considerably longer than expected so that a Democratic governor can appoint a hopefully much better replacement.

I guess there is a possibility that Menendez will beat all the most serious charges and get nailed only for a failure to report gifts. And then the party may back him up in refusing to resign. I would consider that a bad outcome despite the obvious benefits. The party should have some standards, and that’s not possible if they’re making excuses for Bob Menendez.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.