Jury selection for the trial of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez began Tuesday, more than two years since the disgraced politician was indicted on a number of bribery and corruption charges.
The trial, which centers on a slew of charges surrounding Menendez’s relationship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a corrupt Medicare fraudster who is also facing charges, has a potential to not only end Menendez’s career but also to tip the balance of the Senate even further in favor of the Republican Party.
Democrats are not exactly displaying enthusiasm at the prospect of the imminent trial. When asked his thoughts about the trial on MSNBC Tuesday morning, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) refused to comment — but did seem to suggest that he and his colleagues cannot wait for the PR nightmare to end.
"I think I'm not going to go down that path," Cardin told MSNBC's Mark Halperin after being asked about the case. "Obviously, we're all waiting to see what happens with the outcome of that. This has been going on for two and a half years. So I think we're all pleased to see that hopefully this will come to an end."
A GOP-aligned operative said Democrats will be forced to reckon with the charges against Menendez.
"Senate Democrats clearly want to pretend like the Menendez trial isn't happening, but their head-in-the-sand approach won't fly with voters," said Scott Sloofman, press secretary for America Rising PAC, to LifeZette. "Their colleague's corruption trial will cast a pall over the Democratic Party as the midterms approach, and leave a lasting impression of the corruption of the Democratic Party."
At the time of his indictment, Menendez was just the 12th sitting senator in the country's history to be indicted on corruption charges. If convicted, he would be the fourth senator to be found guilty — but because one of those convictions was later overturned, technically he'd be just the third.
Even if Menendez manages to escape conviction, the trial is still likely to damage the Democrats, since the charges themselves will be incredibly difficult to explain away. Menendez stands accused of accepting a wide array of extravagant personal gifts, expensive meals, and exclusive golf outings from Dr. Salomon Melgen, plus hundreds of thousands in political contributions, in exchange for lobbying on behalf of his benefactor's political and economic interests.
That is, of course, assuming they actually hear about it.
"In a normal media environment it is all you'd hear about, said Eddie Zipperer, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College.
"However, in the mass hysteria media environment created by the anti-Trump muck-makers, it will take a back seat to the big agenda," he told LifeZette.
The indictment makes plain the way Menendez used his position in office to illegally accept gifts.
"The purpose of the conspiracy was for the defendants to use Menendez's official position as a United States senator to benefit and enrich themselves through bribery," the indictment reads. In return, Menendez received gifts "including flights on private jets, use of a Caribbean villa, and a trip to Paris. Menendez withheld information from his senate staff to conceal the extent of his official action on Melgen."
In October 2010, for example, Melgen paid for an $890.70 first-class ticket for Menendez for a flight from Newark to West Palm Beach. Two days later he shelled out over $8,000 for Menendez to fly on a private jet from Palm Beach to Washington, D.C.
If Menendez was feeling a little ritzier than Palm Beach, he appeared to have personal use of Melgen's private villa in the Dominican Republic at the exclusive Case de Campo resort, described in the indictment as "the ocean-side community [with] a marina, three golf courses, thirteen tennis courts, three polo playing fields, equestrian facilities, a 245-acre shooting facility, a spa, beaches, restaurants, and a hotel." Prosecutors allege that Menendez made use of the villa on multiple occasions over a seven-year period between 2006 and 2013.
The Paris trip referenced in the indictment was a three-night stay at the five-star Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome in April 2010 — priced at nearly $5,000. The indictment also mentions that Menendez spent that hotel stay with an unidentified woman "with whom he had a personal relationship."
"Menendez typifies the sort of corruption Americans voted against in 2016," said Zipperer. "Fabulous prizes in exchange for political string-pulling is Swamp 101."
"It creates a fabulous hypocrisy-exposing juxtaposition in the media," he continued. "Look at their coverage of Trump — innuendo, evidence-free accusations, name-calling, end-of-democracy hysteria. Then, look at their coverage of a senator who has actually engaged in corruption. No hyperbole. No hysteria."
"It really illustrates — just as their coverage of Hillary Clinton did — that they don't care about corruption or democracy," Zipperer said. "They care about smearing Republicans, especially President Trump."
Last Modified: August 23, 2017, 6:29 am