Maybe Al Franken won’t be the biggest loser from Alabama’s special election. Even before Capitol Hill Democrats got a workout from patting each other on the backs for Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama, Washington Post editor James Downie issued a challenge to their newfound outrage over unseemliness in public officials. Now that Al Franken and John Conyers have gotten the boot, Downie argues that it’s time to push Robert Menendez out the door too:
Democrats should not wait for a new jury or Ethics Committee investigation: The known facts are damning enough for them to demand Menendez’s resignation. …
Some of the alleged favors for Melgen were relatively small potatoes, such as securing visas for Melgen’s girlfriends. In one case, Menendez’s then-chief of staff wrote that the visas were approved “only due to the fact that R.M. intervened.” Other favors were far bigger. He asked the State Department to assist Melgen in a dispute over a $500 million contact with the Dominican government. The New Jersey senator also allegedly pressured the Department of Health and Human Services to resolve a $9 million billing dispute in Melgen’s favor. In testimony, then-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described an “unusual” meeting with Menendez and Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). “I understood he wanted me to do something,” she said. (It should be noted that Melgen has been convicted of 67 charges of Medicare fraud. Prosecutors estimate that the doctor’s scheme swindled the government out of as much as $105 million.) In no way is this conduct becoming of a senator.
Downie makes the point that the jury deadlocked on the case; prosecutors have not yet decided whether to try Menendez again. They certainly could, but in the meantime, the Senate Ethics Committee has taken their review back up again. (If prosecutors retry Menendez, they’ll suspend it again.) Downie argues, however, that the facts on the table are bad enough — and certainly worse than they were for Franken, if not Conyers. If they were willing to forgo due process on allegations that had not yet been fully tested, then Democrats’ “zero tolerance” mode should have kicked in ages ago on Menendez:
Since the trial, the Senate Ethics Committee has resumed its enquiry into Menendez; many Democrats likely would prefer for that to run its course. But it is highly unlikely that new information for or against the senator will come out. With Capitol Hill Democrats rightly criticizing numerous instances of corruption in the Trump administration, it’s not much to ask that they stand up against similar cases in their own caucus. And it would show voters that Democrats aren’t satisfied with the Supreme Court’s narrow version of corruption. In a political climate in which voters on both sides are convinced that Washington is corrupt, this is a chance for Democrats to distinguish themselves as a party with standards.
I wrote about Menendez last week as a test of the Emergency Democratic Zero Tolerance System. Democrats didn’t even give Franken an opportunity to make an initial defense about allegations that had literally nothing to do with his work on Capitol Hill. (In contrast, John Conyers appears to have been a present threat to staffers and others in the work environment.) Not only have Democrats not pressed Menendez in the same way, they’ve spent the better part of the year shoveling cash into his campaign coffers, as the Free Beacon discovered in October.
What’s the difference between Franken and Menendez? Franken’s governor is a Democrat, while Menendez’ is Republican Chris Christie for about four more weeks. When new Democratic governor takes office on January 16th, perhaps Senate Democrats will take up Downie’s challenge. Until then, Democrats will continue to fulminate over their “zero tolerance” success while Menendez’ presence makes a mockery of their claim to a moral high ground.