Democratic Senator Bob Menendez has been accused of bribery. Surprise, surprise. The man accused of bribery in 2017, and let off because of a hung jury, has been accused of it again. Who woulda thunk it?
In the age of Trump, Clarence Thomas, and Co., I realize that government corruption allegations have begun to lose their power to shock. But, if we are really going to get serious about preserving our democracy, we have to counter such an attitude. It can only lead to cynicism and civic disengagement.
With that, let’s look over the allegations again. Federal prosecutors have accused Sen. Menendez of “using his position [in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee] to aid the authoritarian government of Egypt,” “pressure[ing] federal prosecutors to drop a case against a friend,” and receiving “bribes” consisting in “gold bars, a luxury car, and cash” as reward for these “corrupt acts.”
If he ever decides to apply for a post in the Trump Administration, he might want to add all that to his resume. His current explanation for the mysterious gold bars, cash, and the luxury car does not stand up to a second’s worth of public scrutiny, never mind sustained questioning in a courtroom. Sure, he could have stowed away a little cash because of his family’s memories of confiscation in Cuba. But half a million dollars’ worth? And how many people in Cuba ever had “13 bars of gold bullion” just lying around the house? And what about the luxury Mercedes-Benz bought and “paid for by a businessman” in the Menendez family garage? Where did that come from?
Let’s be clear: a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If I were on a jury, I could not convict him without the evidence at trial clearly establishing that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, I am not on a jury, you are not on a jury, and we do not need to pretend that we are. Although the criminal case is far from over, the case for removing him from the Senate is airtight. Even setting the strength of the charges and Senator Menendez’s lackluster response aside, these accusations suggest that he could be an ongoing national security threat. If anything, taking such a politician out of the Senate is a commonsense measure to keep our national secrets in safe hands.
Besides, now is not the time to tolerate any corruption in the Democratic Party. If Democrats, including me, truly think of themselves as the last refuge of American democracy, they must treat every threat to democratic norms as a threat to the party. While Menendez’s current corruption scandal pales in comparison to Trump’s criminal enterprise, the fact remains: Menendez has been credibly accused of having acted as a foreign agent. Foreign agents at the service of autocratic regimes have no place in our government. If we would not tolerate it in the Republican Party, we should not tolerate it in the Democratic Party.
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and the worst thing we could ever do is look the other way.