As we noted here previously, there were a few people in the media cautiously suggesting that while the #MeToo movement was sweeping away alleged sexual offenders in Congress this year, it might be an opportune time for the Democrats to relieve themselves of the embarrassment of having Bob Menendez hanging around. The New Jersey Democrat narrowly dodged a bullet when his corruption case ended in a mistrial, but that far from exonerated him. So if pressure from colleagues was enough to show Al Franken the door (assuming he actually leaves), might the same tactic work with Menendez? And more to the point… should it?
Enter Gerald Krovatin, a criminal defense attorney from Newark, New Jersey and, by his own admission, a long-time supporter of Menendez. Perrish the thought, is Gerald’s take on it. In fact, the entire idea is appalling.
In the midst of the recent resignations of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Post Opinions writer James Downie suggested that Democrats should use this moment to “ditch” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) because of accusations of bribery and corruption against the senator. The argument is appalling.
Due process is the cornerstone of our justice system. Anyone who would call for Menendez to resign following the outcome of his case — which ended in a mistrial in court last month and is now under review by the Senate Ethics Committee — doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. I have been a longtime supporter of Menendez, who has maintained his innocence from the start, weathering for five years the cloud of an investigation riddled with leaks and impropriety and a corruption trial, all while insisting that once he had his day in court, he would be vindicated. Although Menendez was not acquitted, he certainly came close.
In today’s political climate, any public official accused of corruption faces a daunting task — yet at least 10 of 12 jurors wanted to acquit the senator. Why? Because the government’s case against him was paper-thin. This is not a guess or a hypothetical; it is what jurors have said since the trial concluded.
This entire argument about Menendez might have come off a bit better if both authors had not tied it to Al Franken and all of the sexual harassment claims. In the case of the New Jersey senator we’re talking about allegations of well-defined crimes which have been fully investigated and aired before a jury of his peers. We still have a relatively high bar for such things, thankfully, while the same cannot be said of far too many of the sexual harassment claims.
But that’s also what makes this comparison worth a closer look. Nobody, to my knowledge, has seriously suggested that we simply “Believe Them” when it comes to those accusing Menendez of corruption and exchanging gifts and favors for political influence. And in that sense, Krovatin is correct. Granted, he goes on to paint a far rosier picture of the outcome of the trail than many other observers, but the fact is that Menendez was not found guilty. There may be another trial and he’s already being examined by the Ethics Committee, but thus far there simply isn’t a basis to declare him unfit to serve.
So now, for all pouring pouringn over the details of sexual assault or harassment allegations against elected officials, perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves those same, sobering questions. If allegations are raised which fall inside the limits of the statute of limitations, does each and every person so accused have a right to the same level of due process as Menendez is being given? A couple of the most recent allegations against Al Franken sound like they could be prosecuted, though the charges for butt grabbing during a photo op are probably far less severe in a court of law than groping a sleeping woman’s breasts. Still, any conviction would do if it involved inappropriate sexual touching and he could have been shown the door. But if he’s found not guilty or prosecutors won’t even touch it, what then?
At the other end of the scale we have Roy Moore. He will never stand before a jury to answer the charges delivered up by the Washington Post on behalf of the two women (not eight, nine or twelve as is so often claimed) who accused him of doing something illegal. But for the remainder of his life he will carry with him the conviction handed down by the Court of Public Opinion. While having coffee earlier I watched as Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski once again railed against the lack of due process received by Al Franken before he was shoved out the door by Kirsten Gillibrand, among others. I don’t recall any such concerns being expressed for Roy Moore during the heat of the election, but the question she raises still deserves an answer.
What are the limits of Believe The Women? And if an attempt to force out Bob Menendez right now is appalling, shouldn’t the suggestion that we just blindly Believe Any Accuser leave us similarly appalled?