No, Democrats Have Not Been "Forced" Into Complicity With Corruption

You really have to feel sorry for the Democratic Party and its New Jersey supporters. If you believe today’s New York Times, they have been “forced” into complicity with some rather thoroughly-exposed and over-the-top political corruption. Now, how exactly does that work? Is somebody holding a gun to their heads? Of course not. The only issue here is that the Times — and apparently the national and local Democratic Party hierarchies as well — regard a reliable vote in the Senate for “our side” to be far more important than seeing the defeat even of a politician who has been proven to be on the take and corrupt to the core. How’s that for an uplifting political value system?

The article in today’s Times has the headline “Democrats in an All-Hands-on-Deck Scramble to Save Menendez in New Jersey.” The authors are Nick Corasanti and Jonathan Martin.

This involves the re-election campaign of incumbent Democratic New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. Although the RealClearPolitics poll average today has Menendez ahead by 6.5 points, Republican candidate Bob Hugin has recently been claiming to have surged to a lead in his “internal polls.” Not sure that I believe those internal polls (pollsters have a way of telling client candidates what they want to hear), but the Pravda piece indicates that internal polls by the Democrats may be showing close to the same thing. (“In Washington, Democrats grew increasingly alarmed when in mid-October their own internal polling indicated that Mr. Menendez’s lead had fallen to only two points.”)

So what has been the reaction?

[I]n a state rich with commuters and cul-de-sacs, party leaders are being forced to mount a last-minute, all-hands-on-deck effort to rescue Mr. Menendez’s candidacy and preserve their long-shot dreams of a Senate majority. . . . So, in an already difficult election year for Senate Democrats, when they are defending 10 states Mr. Trump carried, the party was forced to spend significant time, money and energy attempting to retain a seat in a state Hillary Clinton carried by 14 points.

They don’t really want to support this Menendez guy; but they’ve been “forced.” Sure.

If you are reading this article, might you be curious as to what Senator Menendez may have done that has caused his plunge in the polls? Naturally, this being Pravda, you will not find that out here, beyond a couple of fleeting references to a “corruption trial.” Here’s how it slides by:

In New Jersey, many of the suburbanites who are backing Democratic House candidates from Republican-leaning areas are still uneasy about embracing Mr. Menendez after his 2017 federal corruption trial, which ended in a mistrial. 

But what were the allegations, and was there anything to them? Since you can’t get this from Pravda (at least, not unless you are prepared to spend some quality time searching their archives), let the Manhattan Contrarian help you. First, note that Menendez was not indicted by some evil Republican, but rather by the Obama Justice Department, in April 2015. Here is a link to the indictment. The case involved Menendez’s relationship with a wealthy Florida eye doctor named Salomon Melgen. By the time of Menendez’s trial in the fall of 2017, Melgen had already been convicted of multiple counts of Medicare fraud in amounts exceeding $100 million. My post of September 30, 2017 (“Political Corruption 102: The Case Of Robert Menendez”) contained this summary of the most important allegations in the Menendez indictment:

Here's the quid:

  • Menendez took 19 free rides on Melgen's private jets to luxury resorts around the world, sometimes bringing guests.

  • Melgen made more than $600,000 in campaign donations to super PACs to get Menendez reelected in 2012.

And the quo:

  • Menendez helped three of Melgen's foreign-born girlfriends get visas to visit the United States.

  • Over a period of four years, Menendez held several meetings with U.S. health officials to help Melgen settle an $8.9 million Medicare payment dispute, at one point asking then-Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to help out.

  • As Melgen was emailing Menendez's staff in April and May 2012, promising to donate to Menendez's campaign, prosecutors allege Menendez reached out to top State Department officials to urge them to enforce a port-security contract with the Dominican Republic that would benefit Melgen's company.

Admittedly, Menendez was not convicted in the trial, but rather the jury hung. To be fair, there was and is a legitimate question over whether this conduct, even though thoroughly proven, constituted a violation of federal criminal bribery law. (For more on that subject, read my September 2017 post.) But there is no legitimate question over whether this conduct constituted extreme corruption, let alone a violation of Senate Rules and non-criminal federal law. On April 26, 2018 the Senate Select Committee on Ethics — a group generally known for whitewashing plenty of problematical conduct — issued to Menendez a “Public Letter of Admonition” with regard to his actions. Excerpt:

The Committee has found that over a six-year period you knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required Committee approval, and that you failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate Rule and federal law. Additionally, while accepting these gifts, you used your position as a Member of the Senate to advance Dr. Melgen's personal and business interests. The Committee has determined that this conduct violated Senate Rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct. Accordingly, the Committee issues you this Public Letter of Admonition. . . .

The letter was signed by all members of the Committee, including both Democrats.

So, do you believe the proposition that in the face of this the Democratic Party was just “forced” go all in with support for Menendez and to spend millions of dollars and to roll out its big New Jersey stars (Senator Cory Booker, Governor Phil Murphy) in an “all-hands-on-deck scramble” to get Menendez re-elected? Really, how insulting to our intelligence is that? They had plenty of time to nominate someone else. They had plenty of time to support someone else to defeat Menendez in a primary. They could at least have just not contributed money or time and let Menendez sink or swim on his own. But they wouldn’t do any of these things, because a less-well-known candidate might lose, and one more reliable vote in the Senate for “their side” is more important to them than keeping their side reasonably free of obvious crooks.

They were counting on control of the media to keep the Menendez corruption thing out of the headlines until the election was safely over. Unfortunately for them, the Republicans came up with a self-funded pharmaceutical executive (Hugin) who has been willing to spend millions of his own money keep the story of Menendez’s corruption in the public consciousness. Too bad.