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Menendez pleads not guilty



Senator Robert Menendez, who enjoys the protection of a sycophantic media

Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) today defied the Department of Justice. Yesterday a federal grand jury indicted Menendez and his friend on 22 counts of bribery, conspiracy, and “honest services fraud.” To those charges he pleaded not guilty. He says he has done nothing more than other Senators have done. And even some of his political opponents might agree with that.

Menendez goes to court

Menendez showed up today in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey and entered the not-guilty plea. According to CNN, he also told his supporters he welcomed “the opportunity to finally show beyond a doubt that the charges leveled today and through a nearly three-year campaign of innuendo and smears are completely false.” He expressed “outrage” to ABC and other media outlets at a Wednesday night news conference. “For nearly three years, I’ve lived under a Justice Department cloud,” he said. He said he expects to “vindicate” himself at trial.

Did Menendez present himself to this courthouse?

The Clarkson S. Fischer Federal Building in Trenton, NJ. It houses the US District Court for New Jersey, where a little-known case against the health care refom bill was decided. Photo: US Pretrial Services Agency, New Jersey District

The grand jury actually indicted Senator Menendez and his friend, Salomon Melgen, M.D., an eye doctor practicing in Florida. The 68-page document accuses both men on 22 counts. These counts stem from Title 18, United States Code, section 201(b)(1)(A). The grand jury sums up the charges thus: Menendez and Melgen conspired together. Melgen gave Menendez certain gifts (value: over $1 million). In return, Menendez did certain favors for Melgen. In so doing, both men defrauded the people of New Jersey, and of America as a whole, of Menendez’ “honest services” as a Senator.

The gifts include campaign contributions, travel in Melgen’s private business aircraft, charter flights, first-class commercial flight tickets, and expensive hotel and resort stays in Paris, France, and in the Dominican Republic. Menendez weakened himself in this critical way: he never reported any of this, as Senate ethics rules require. Menendez did not even tell the employees in his own Senate office about these gifts.

In return, Menendez influenced certain agencies to decide certain things in favor of Melgen and his business interests. This included an abrupt refusal by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to give away free X-ray screening equipment to the Dominican Republic. That country then needed to buy this equipment from a company Melgen owned. Menendez also did Melgen another favor, according to the indictment: he influenced the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services when they investigated Melgen for over-billing for eye-care services to Medicare patients.

Count One of the indictment gives details on the gifts Melgen gave Menendez, and the favors Menendez did for Melgen. The indictment does not mention anything about Menendez consorting with prostitutes. Two years ago an anonymous witness accused Menendez of consorting, in one of his Dominican Republic junkets, with women younger than the typical age of consent in the United States, though older than the age of consent in the Dominican Republic. The FBI apparently investigated that claim and could not substantiate it. But in the process they developed evidence of the other wrongs the indictment lists. How long ago they developed this evidence, the indictment does not say.

Fishy timing

RoseAnn Salanitri, six years ago, began a movement to recall Senator Menendez from office. She did so, not on account of any official corruption, but by reason of his failure “to support the Constitution of the United States” as a United States Senator should. Today she shared her mixed feelings about the indictment. “I always knew he was corrupt,” she said. “He’s a New Jersey politician, after all. But isn’t it ironic? As long as he acted as a rogue Senator, rogue in the sense of disrespecting the Constitution, the Obama Administration turned a blind eye to his ethics failures. But now that he starts standing up for the Constitution, the administration turns on him.”

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Salanitri was speaking of Barack Obama’s insistence that he could, on his own, decide such matters of foreign policy as normalization of relations with the Republic of Cuba, and making a “deal” with the Islamic Republic of Iran over the latter’s program to develop a nuclear industry. Senator Menendez has criticized Obama and his administration on both issues. Menendez’ family fled Cuba after the Castro revolution. As to the Iran deal, Menendez spoke to the America-Israel Political Action Committee the night before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addressed a joint session of Congress. Menendez told his listeners he would not let anyone “bully” him, be they America’s enemies, or “my political friends when I know they are wrong.”

Menendez serves on the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Relations. Until today he served as the Democratic ranking member. Today he relinquished that spot. (But he did not leave the Foreign Relations Committee completely.)

Today The New York Times called on Menendez to resign from the Senate. Their editors reviewed the most damning counts of the indictment, and Menendez’ defense. Menendez asserts he did favors for a friend of twenty years, and no favor any other Senator would not do for a long-time friend. In calling on him to resign, the Times says nothing about how many other Senators might in fact hand out favors to far-flung wealthy contributors, as Menendez allegedly did. The Times mentioned that Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, would have the chance to appoint another Senator from New Jersey, and schedule a special election for a “rump term” of three years or longer. New Jersey voters last re-elected Menendez in 2012.

Penny-ante stuff

Alieta Eck, M.D., ran for the Senate in a special election after the death of Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J. She scoffed at any notion of Menendez resigning from the Senate. She did find the allegations in the indictment disturbing, especially the $1 million total value of the gifts. But, she said, “This should be the beginning. If they’re going to run Menendez out of the Senate, they should start running other people out of the Senate who have done worse things.” She asked why so many Senators managed to leave the Senate so much wealthier than when they entered. She asked how Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could accumulate so much wealth, and also get away with libeling the political opponent of an ally (i.e., Obama). She suggested then-Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) accepted gifts worth far more than anything Menendez took. She cited the many trips the U.S. Air Force’s 89th Airlift Wing gave to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Most recently she cited Barack and Michelle Obama taking trips to Los Angeles, at the same time, on two separate aircraft. “Compared to that,” she said, “what Menendez is supposed to have taken, is small potatoes.” Which actually reflects her attitude toward all of Congress, and what she calls the Washington establishment: all are corrupt, and have committed far worse breaches of the public trust than anything in this indictment.

And, like Salanitri, Dr. Eck questioned the timing of the charges. “After Menendez made that magnificent speech in support of [the Republic of] Israel, of course he made Obama mad,” she said. “That’s what this is really about.”

Dr. Eck has no plans to run again for the Senate, or for Congress. So she would probably not seek to run in any special Senate election anyway, and does not see that in the offing. Indeed she said, “Menendez will not go down without a fight.” She also suggested if Menendez does go down, he will take other Senators with him.

Menendez on video


Menendez facing charges

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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