New Jersey's Robert Menendez is entitled to the presumption of innocence (again). But after his latest federal indictment on bribery charges, he should not be entitled to continue to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Menendez should resign.
The cloud hanging over the Garden State's senior senator will inevitably distract from his ability to put his constituents first. He should step down and focus his energy on mounting a credible defense.
However, Menendez said he is not going anywhere. During a news conference on Monday, the Democrat recounted his many accomplishments championing worthy causes and standing up for New Jersey residents, and declared he would be "exonerated."
But any good works are overshadowed by the disturbing picture of corruption alleged in the 39-page indictment. Prosecutors accused Menendez of abusing his power to benefit the government of Egypt and business associates in New Jersey in return for bribes that included hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, help buying a Mercedes-Benz convertible, and a low-show job for his wife, Nadine, who was also charged along with three associates.
The evidence against Menendez is damning. The indictment details incriminating text messages, a Google search for the price of gold, and efforts by Menendez to meddle in state and federal investigations involving a businessman and associate.
During a search of the couple's home in North Jersey, federal prosecutors found $480,000 in cash stuffed in envelopes and coat pockets. More than $70,000 was found in Nadine Menendez's safe deposit box. Sen. Menendez did not take questions during the news conference, but said with a straight face that the cash was for "emergencies," and stemmed from his parents' fear of confiscation of funds from their time in Cuba.
This is the second time Menendez has been indicted. The first case ended in a mistrial in 2017 after he was accused of accepting lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor. His latest indictment underscores what is right and wrong with our political system.
Contrary to the bogus narrative pushed by so many Republican leaders, including Donald Trump, the U.S. Justice Department is not controlled by President Joe Biden, nor is it part of some so-called deep state. The career prosecutors in the Justice Department investigate cases regardless of political party, as seen by the indictments of Menendez, Hunter Biden, and Trump.
That's how justice should work. Indeed, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland made clear he is independent and not the president's attorney — though Trump perverted that long-standing practice during his term and has vowed to "go after" Joe Biden and his family if reelected. That is just one glaring difference between a Biden and Trump White House.
Sadly, elected officials from both parties often get hooked on power and abuse their position. In fact, more than two dozen members of Congress have been indicted since 1980.
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court made it nearly impossible to convict public officials of corruption in a decision overturning the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. Despite strong evidence, that ruling will make it difficult to convict Menendez. Though the high legal bar does not make accepting gifts morally right.
The same goes for other public officials. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has made a mockery of influence peddling by accepting lavish gifts from friends, including trips on private jets, luxury vacations, tuition payments for a child he raised, as well as payments and gifts to his wife, Ginni. Justice Samuel Alito likewise took an unreported junket from a billionaire who later had cases before the court.
Such entitlement and shamelessness are what anger voters and undermine trust in government institutions. Credit New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and a few other leading Democrats, including Pennsylvania's Sen. John Fetterman, for calling on Menendez to resign.
More elected officials from both parties should take heed. New Jersey voters deserve better than a twice-indicted senator.