Although it has largely been downplayed in the media in favor other news, the corruption trial of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is one of the most significant stories playing out in modern American politics, with significant potential consequences for the Democrats.
Despite the major pressure on the party from a trial that may result in the expulsion of one of their most prominent members in the Senate, Democrats are placing their support behind the New Jersey politician. Notably, the Washington Free Beacon reports that Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, has refused to say whether he believes Menendez should resign immediately if found guilty.
Sanders appeared on CNN’s State of the Union program, where host Jake Tapper asked him directly about his views on the Menendez trial. Tapper specifically qualified his question, indicating that Menendez’s resignation would be predicated on a “guilty” verdict from the jury.
“Where do you come down on this?” Tapper asked the former presidential candidate. “If Senator Menendez is convicted, should he resign immediately?” Surprisingly, Sanders did not say Menendez should step down–even in the hypothetical that he was found guilty.
“I think in this country, people are entitled to due process. I’m not into speculating what if that will be Menendez’ decision,” the Vermont Senator said. “He has not been convicted. Let the process take its course.”
Sanders continued: “In America, that’s what it’s about. You have a trial and people — the jury makes its decision. They have not made their decision, so I think it’s a little bit premature to be talking about that.” Sanders isn’t alone in his defense of the accused New Jersey Democrat.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), have shown their support for Menendez, with Schumer praising his “spirited defense.” Neither of the two lawmakers has affirmed whether Menendez should resign in the case of a guilty verdict.
A CNN poll touted by Tapper indicates that 84 percent of New Jersey voters want Menendez to resign if he is found guilty. This seems to clash with the position of Democrat Party leaders, who appear poised to defend Menendez even if the jury decides against him.
Senator Menendez faces bribery charges over allegations that he used his elected office to secure favors for Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, who is accused of providing Menendez lavish vacations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. Both Menendez and Melgen sit as co-defendants in the same trial.
Federal prosecutors say Menendez tried to help Melgen’s foreign girlfriends obtain visas to the US. Additionally, the New Jersey Senator allegedly attempted to reverse a decision from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that forced Melgen to pay back $8.9 million for over-billing patients. Interestingly, Menendez was aided in his efforts by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
Reid contacted Obama’s deputy chief of staff in 2011 to request his assistance with the CMS issue. When the official said he couldn’t help, Reid organized a meeting between himself, Menendez, and then-Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Although Menendez resolved neither the CMS nor the visa issues on Melgen’s behalf, the actions were enough to warrant bribery charges. As NJTV notes, the trial began on September 6. The defense has not yet presented its evidence.