September 22, 2023
The New Jersey senator was indicted by the Justice Department on a series of accusations straight out of The Sopranos.
Say what you will about New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, but he’s not an empty suit. Among the many lurid details of the Justice Department’s indictment against the sitting chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on corruption charges, one stood out as being a little too sneaky: Menendez and his money-hungry wife, Nadine, had fled. more than $480,000 in cash in their New Jersey home, as one does — some of it in the senator’s suit jackets bearing his name and the U.S. Senate insignia.
If that symbolism doesn’t seem cartoonish enough for you, read on: The indictment also explains how gold bars worth $100,000 were found in Menendez’s spread – the kind of cult of old-fashioned pelf associated with Scrooge McDuck. Still not enough? Well, how about Menendez returning from a trip to Egypt and just Googling the value of a kilogram of gold?
Even though the details of the myriad rewards cataloged in the indictment resemble the kind of buffoonery one might encounter in the American unrest bloopers, the underlying accusations are quite serious. The indictment accuses Menendez of “promising and using his influence and breaching his official duties” in the service of three New Jersey businessmen, Wael Hana, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe. Menendez also reportedly obtained significant favors from the Egyptian state, one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid in the world. (In A declaration, the senator denied all accusations, calling them the work of opponents who “see me as an obstacle to achieving their broader political goals.” )
According to the indictment, Menendez provided sensitive information to the Egyptian government while restoring previously denied military funding. Domestically, he is accused of improperly intervening in a New Jersey state attorney general’s investigation into Uribe, while maneuvering to secure the appointment of a U.S. attorney who he said could be favorable to the interests of Daibes, then defending his own. federal indictment. (The attorney in question, Phillip R. Sellinger, has not been charged with any wrongdoing.) To emphasize the egregiousness of Menendez’s abuse, the indictment cites language from the senator’s website, informing voters that “our office cannot compel an agency to act.” in your favor or accelerate your file; subvert or influence matters involving private companies” or “intervene in legal matters, provide legal advice, or recommend a lawyer.” Clearly, there was no disclaimer stating, “at least not without boats loaded with cash or gold bars.”
Menendez’s indictment was grim, but not exactly shocking. In 2015, the senator faced federal corruption charges in New Jersey in an alleged scheme to grant legislative favors to a wealthy donor in exchange for more than $1 million in backsheesh. A 2018 trial resulted in a mistrial without a jury, which ultimately led to a partial acquittal, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office ultimately dropping the remainder of the charges.
But to paraphrase Menendez’s senatorial colleague Susan Collins of Maine, the seasoned corruption broker doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson. In Menendez’s dealings with Egypt, his wife, Nadine, whom he married in 2020, has emerged as a central player. The two began dating in late 2018, and shortly after, Nadine arranged an introduction with Wael Hana, who had extensive connections to the Egyptian government. (Another telling vignette from the indictment shows Menendez texting Nadine about the impending approval of a $99 million tank contract for Egypt; she quickly forwarded the text to a unnamed Egyptian official, who responded with a thumbs-up emoji.) The indictment says Hana paid $23,000 to Nadine’s mortgage lender to avoid foreclosure proceedings against her, and that after the senator acted to resolve a criminal matter not specified in the indictment, Hana and Uribe purchased a Mercedes convertible for Nadine from a dealership in Edison, New Jersey. In another Jersey unique, Uribe handed her the $15,000 deposit in a restaurant parking lot, earning her this effusive thank you text: “You are a miracle worker who makes dreams come true , I will always remember.” He performed the same miracle on the balance of the $60,000 owed on the car, paying off half, according to the indictment.
This kind of mafia-style shenanigans sits uneasily with the sober deliberations one might expect from the Senate Foreign Relations chairman, but Menendez is hardly a stranger to Senate Democratic leadership. Instead of getting rid of the scandal-plagued senator after his latest run-in with the law, Majority Leader Chuck Shumer spent lavishly on his 2018 re-election bid, even though registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the Garden State. Menendez is running for office again next year, and it seems likely that even the Democratic establishment, deeply prone to inertia, will be forced to recruit a more viable candidate; So far, Joe Signorello III, mayor of the small town of Union Park, is Menendez’s only announced primary opponent.
Under Senate rules, Menendez will hand over his foreign affairs gavel during his impeachment and trial — an outcome that can only be a political gain, plus an anti-corruption bonus. Menendez’s tenure has not only been a role-playing exercise for major recipients of U.S. aid, such as Egypt and Israel; under his leadership, the Committee on Foreign Relations also regularly favored the testimony of interested state actors over that of reformers, dissidents, and civil society groups. Given what we know about the senator’s handling of his private affairs, this isn’t much of a shock, but it remains a dire development for anyone seeking to see American foreign policy roughly align with the forces of democratic reform and accountability.
It’s true that rampant corruption is a signature New Jersey political export. The trashy Progressive-era journalist Lincoln Steffens called it a “treacherous state” in the early 20th century, and little has changed in New Jersey’s operational social compact since. Indeed, another breathtaking sight on today’s political scene is seeing Chris Christie, the former U.S. Attorney who launched a corruption investigation against Menendez in 2006, only to go on to become governor to spearhead “Bridgegate,” l one of the most gloriously small states. political scandals in modern memory – he is now running for president as the narrow conscience of the Never Trump Republican Party. Then again, of course, Menendez himself voted to impeach Trump in 2019 for manipulating military aid to Ukraine on unassuming political terms — a payoff deal that is almost structurally identical to what Menendez would have done in the case of Egypt. military aid program. In other words, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to be wary of New Jersey Poles seizing the reform torch; also, it’s probably a good precaution to see what they’re wearing in their jacket.
politics New Gb1