If at first you don’t succeed … The corruption trial of Robert Menendez has ended in a mistrial — complete with high-fives between the Menendez family and the defense attorney, no less. That could be premature, as the non-conclusion of this trial leaves open the possibility of a new effort to try Menendez on nineteen counts of corruption:
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s federal corruption trial ended Thursday in a mistrial after the deadlocked jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.
“We cannot reach a unanimous decision,’’ the jury wrote. “Nor are we willing to move away from our strong convictions.” …
The case was already heading toward a mistrial on Monday when the jury first said it was deadlocked on all counts. Judge William Walls ordered the jury to continue deliberating on, despite Menendez’s attorneys requesting the declaration of a mistrial. After Thursday’s mistrial, the Justice Department could decide to re-try Menendez.
Before that, the Department of Justice needs to reconsider whether they can win a conviction at all. Their case against Menendez was circumstantial, arguing that the stream of benefits he received from Melgen was directly tied to a series of official actions, despite having no direct evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement, such as a wiretapped conversation or a paper trail of such an agreement. It wasn’t an easy case the first time around, and it may not get any easier the second time around, either.
This suggests that the DoJ will have some reservations, if true:
Juror says @SenatorMenendez jury was deadlocked 10-2 with 10 favoring acquittal.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 16, 2017
The timing of a new trial might complicate for both parties. Politico notes that any retrial will likely take place at an inopportune time:
The mistrial means that if the Justice Department decides to re-try Menendez, it will almost certainly take place during his reelection campaign. Menendez has indicated that he plans to seek reelection, and his uncertain legal status could jeopardize what should be one of Democrats’ safest Senate seats in 2018. During the trial, several polls showed Menendez’s approval and favorability rating collapse.
Menendez adviser Michael Soliman said in an email to expect an announcement from the senator on whether he’ll seek reelection “in the coming weeks” and that “all things indicate to him running for re-election.”
At 63, Menendez is one of the younger members of the Senate, which lends credence to the idea that he’ll run for re-election. That decision might be impacted by a new trial, or maybe not — after all, this is New Jersey, a Democratic stronghold. Plus, it might make the corruption trial look more political to jurors in New Jersey, a complaint that one dismissed juror leveled at prosecutors last week.
The Associated Press’s David Porter wonders whether Menendez could outrun the shadow cast by the mistrial, however:
The inconclusive end to the 2½-month trial could leave the charges hanging over Menendez as he gears up for an expected run for re-election next year to the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim edge and the Democrats need every vote they can get.
While it probably wouldn’t impact Menendez in a general election, one has to wonder whether an ambitious Democrat might seize the opportunity to best him in a primary. The mistrial might make a big difference in that stage of an election, and the fight could at least raise the profile of the Democratic bench in the Garden State. If the DoJ does retry Menendez, the window would open even wider for a primary challenge.
That’s still a big if, though. Unless prosecutors get Salomon Melgen to flip, they may never get a strong enough case to justify a return to the courtroom.