The New York Trial that No One is Paying Attention To

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #131 | By: Arvind Salem| June 20, 2024
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While President Trump’s trial in New York, and eventual conviction, generated wall-to-wall news coverage, the bribery trial of Senator Robert Menendez occurring just yards away has generated comparatively little attention. However, this trial features more serious accusations: alleging that the senator consistently used his considerable influence as (now former) Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for personal gain, while selling out the American people.

At the simplest level, prosecutors are alleging that Menendez accepted bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from several New Jersey businessmen in exchange for political favors. Prosecutors are also charging the people that have given Mr. Menendez money. One of them, Jose Uribe, a former Insurance broker in New Jersey, pleaded guilty in March to giving the Senator a Mercedes-Benz worth $60,000 to intervene in state insurance fraud investigations against Uribe’s insurance associates. The others that are also charged haven’t flipped, including Fred Daibes, a Real Estate Developer, who allegedly bribed the senator with furniture, gold and cash to help him finance a real estate project, and Wael Hana, the Founder of the IS EG Halal company, who allegedly assisted in  arranging meetings with the senator and Egyptian officials that led to a monopoly for his company, IS EG Halal, that was used to funnel bribes to the Senator and his wife in exchange for the senator’s efforts to steer U.S. weapons and aid to Egypt.

This isn’t the first time Menendez has been accused of a serious crime like this. In 2017, federal prosecutors charged him with using his office to help a friend defraud Medicare. The result of that trial was a deadlocked jury and prosecutors deciding against holding another trial. In 2018, Menendez was backed by the establishment and won reelection.

Policy Analysis:

On a political level, this isn’t horrible for Democrats. Even though control in the Senate as a whole is very tight, and losing a senior Democrat in this way isn’t ideal, New Jersey’s Senate Seats themselves are not a risk to fall to the GOP as the GOP hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in New Jersey since 1972. Representative Andy Kim from the 3rd District looks poised to win the Democratic Primary and help Democrats keep the seat. With this in mind, it makes clear political sense for Democrats to denounce Menendez and distance themselves from him, as they are virtually guaranteed to hold the seat without his influence. Over half of all Democratic US Senators in Congress, including fellow New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy have called on Menendez to resign. Menendez has expressed that he wants to keep his seat, resisting calls to resign, and filing for re-election as an Independent.

Legally, Menendez is employing the risky strategy of pinning everything on his wife: arguing that his wife did everything illegally without informing her husband. This initially displays some promise. In terms of fact, it is true that the couple had separate bank accounts, credit cards and cell phone plans. Additionally, Mr. Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, even in the prosecution’s account of things, was often the intermediary between the businessmen and the senator. In terms of legality, the fact that Nadine and Robert are being tried separately, as well as the privilege against self-incrimination  and legal doctrine that protects the marital relationship, enables both to point the finger at the other and the spouse that is accused can hide being the legal protections against self-incrimination and the protections of marriage. However, this strategy can backfire if the jury perceives it as a powerful senator attempting to scapegoat his less powerful wife: leading the jury to be outraged on two fronts as they perceive the defendant as guilty of the actual crime itself and of trying to scapegoat their “innocent” spouse.

Engagement Resources

In light of this indictment, it is clear that politicians possess the ability to use their influence in corrupt ways. The following are a list of organizations/initiatives that work towards greater government transparency to prevent corruption like what is alleged in this trial.

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