Notes on the Menendez indictment

The indictment of New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez and his friend Dr. Salomon Melgen has been posted online here. It runs to 68 pages and provides a wealth of detail. Paul comments on the indictment here. If you’re trying to get a handle on the reality behind the headlines, the indictment requires a close look.

The facts alleged in the indictment may to a great extent make out what former Wall Street Journal reporter Brooks Jackson denominated “honest graft.” Much of the indictment is devoted to a recitation of activities that must be business as usual in Washington, or close to it.

The activities itemized in the indictment go back as far as 2006. It is certainly fair to wonder why the indictment has been handed up now and to doubt that Senator Menendez’s leading role criticizing the foreign policy of the Obama administration is merely a big coincidence.

In part, the indictment vaguely charges Senator Menendez with quid-pro-quo corruption in paragraph 9(b). When one looks for specific “quids” given in exchange for specific “quos,” the indictment is evasive. I should add here that among the several Senate staff witnesses cited in the indictment is Senator Menendez’s chief of staff from 2008 to 2014.

One damning set of facts goes to Senator Menendez’s acceptance of “gifts” (flights and vacation accommodations) worth thousands of dollars together with their omission on the reports Senator Menendez was required to file with the Senate (paragraphs 64-69). The New Jersey Star-Ledger comments: “Regardless of the outcome, it is hard to fathom Menendez’s lack of judgment after a long career in a state that has been cursed by so much corruption. Why would he even dance close to this line?”

Yet this is no secret and it is ancient history (2006-2010). One wonders why now?

The indictment alleges that Menendez solicited Dr. Melgen to contribute to an unnamed Democratic female Senator (“Senator 1”) in exchange for the female Senator’s solicitation of contributions on Menendez’s behalf. Would that be Senator Feinstein? I don’t think Senators Klobuchar, Gillibrand or Cantwell faced competitive primaries, as the indictment vaguely spells out (paragraphs 54-58). [See UPDATE and CORRECTION below.] Whoever it was, what did she know and when did she know it?

Section III of the indictment itemizes “official acts” taken by Senator Menendez to benefit Dr. Melgen’s personal interests with his foreign girlfriends (perhaps performing jobs American ladies wouldn’t do) as well as business interests with Medicare and otherwise. This too is ancient history and business as usual. Paragraphs 190-197 itemize Senator Menendez’s efforts to get Dr. Melgen’s lobbyist an audience with then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senior Health Counsel. Hey, what did Harry Reid know and when did he know it?

The allegations regarding these “official acts” form the heart of the indictment. No allegation makes out a quid pro quo arrangement. The following counts allege bribery, but the factual allegations don’t make it out. The evidence alleged appears to be entirely circumstantial. It is susceptible of construction as politics as usual. I am left with an uneasy feeling that there is less here than meets the eye, but I encourage interested readers to review the indictment themselves and form they own tentative conclusions.

Of this much I am quite sure. The Star-Ledger’s expression of confidence in the Holder Justice Department’s “rebuilt” Public Integrity Section (advertised here by the New York Times), or any other part of the Holder Justice Department is, shall we say, undeserved and/or overrated.

UPDATE and CORRECTION: Minnesota’s own Senator Amy Klobuchar is “Senator 1.”

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