Tags: Robert Menendez | New Jersey | Senate | indicted

Indicted Sen. Menendez Likely To Hang Onto Office — For Now, Anyway

Indicted Sen. Menendez Likely To Hang Onto Office — For Now, Anyway
(Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Landov)

By    |   Thursday, 02 April 2015 09:14 AM

Hours after the long-anticipated indictment Wednesday of Sen. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) on charges of accepting illegal gratuities, signs were strong that the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman would hold onto his office until the bitter end.

In his case, "bitter end" means a conviction in federal court, which would almost certainly necessitate Menendez's resignation before his Senate colleagues would be forced into the uncomfortable position of having a vote to expel him from office. But only after such a scenario, which is expected to take several months, would even the discussion of expulsion or forced resignation begin.

"Traditionally, party leaders and fellow members of Congress gave wide berth to members accused of scandals, including those that involved corruption," George Washington University Prof. Lara Brown, whose Ph.d dissertation was on scandals of lawmakers, told Newsmax. "They viewed each member as having been elected by a constituency not unlike their own, and they believed that the appropriate judges on the member's case were the voters."     

"He's a fighter, all right, and when [Menendez] says he's not going anywhere, I believe him," David Norcross, former New Jersey State Republican chairman and U.S. Senate nominee, told Newsmax. "I also think he's looking at the case of Ted Stevens [the last U.S. Senator to be indicted while in office] and that gives him confidence about vindication."

Norcross was referring to the 2008 indictment of Alaska Republican Stevens on charges of filing false disclosure forms for services he received from a company handling the renovation of his house.  Convicted by a Washington, D.C. jury on October 27 of that year and narrowly edged out for re-election a week later, Stevens nonetheless won something of a vindication in '09 when a judge overturned the conviction on the grounds of misconduct by U.S. Justice Department prosecutors. An embarrassed Justice Department declined to retry the case.

Norcross, who has known Menendez for 20 years, is not alone in suspecting that the indictment is in part payback from the Obama administration for the New Jersey senator's public disagreements with the White House over the U.S. opening to Cuba and the pursuit of a nuclear agreement with Iran.

"This is Cook County [Ill.] hardball meeting Hudson County [N.J.] hardball and it's going to be a helluva fight," he said.

Menendez and Stevens were the latest of 12 sitting U.S. Senators who have been indicted since the founding of the Republic. All but one were acquitted in court, but had their political careers destroyed.

Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Democrat Burton K. Wheeler (Montana), were indicted respectively in their first years in office — Hutchinson in 1993 for campaign finance violations and Wheeler in 1923 for representing a client before a government office. In both cases, the charges were tossed out quickly and both went on to long careers in office.

Sen. Edward J. Gurney (Florida), was indicted in 1973 on seven counts of bribery and lying to a grand jury.

"Ed told me he could either run for re-election and win but probably lose his court case or not run for re-election, devote himself to his case, and be vindicated in court," recalled SixtyPlus Seniors Association President James L. Martin, father of the estate tax repeal movement and once Gurney's top aide. "But he said flatly he couldn't do both successfully."

Despite polls showing him an easy winner in spite of his indictment, Gurney in 1974 decided to forgo re-election to focus on his legal plight. He was eventually acquitted on all seven counts.

In all the cases of the indicted U.S. Senators, their colleagues never moved toward a vote or debate on expelling them (which requires a vote of two thirds of the Senate). The closest the Senate has come to doing so was, ironically, in the case of another New Jersey Democrat.

Sen.  Harrison "Pete" Williams (D.-N.J.) was indicted in 1980 after being filmed accepting bribes from FBI agents disguised as Arab sheiks in the ABSCAM "sting" operation. Two years later, following his conviction in court, the New Jerseyan resigned as the full Senate moved toward expulsion. He eventually served 21 months in prison.

"It is highly unlikely that they would expel [Menendez] from the Senate in the absence of a conviction," said Prof. Brown. "But, as our politics have become more polarized along partisan lines and the national party brand matters, leaders and fellow members have not only looked to judge, but also to persuade those embroiled in scandals to retire or resign.

"As such, and in part because Senator Menendez has been a critic of the administration's policies, he may well find himself judged by other Democrats in the media, and behind closed doors, asked to resign."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Hours after the long-anticipated indictment Wednesday of Sen. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) on charges of accepting illegal gratuities, signs were strong that the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman would hold onto his office until the bitter end.
Robert Menendez, New Jersey, Senate, indicted
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2015-14-02
Thursday, 02 April 2015 09:14 AM
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