Menendez Acquitted, Facing His Next Jury

The Voters

Menedez JuryThe U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not pursue a re-trial of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez’s corruption charges on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

After an 11-week trial last fall, which resulted in a hung jury, District Court Judge William Walls declared a mistrial on all 12 charges against Menendez.

However, federal prosecutors said that they intended to retry Menendez on political corruption charges on Friday, Jan. 20.

Menendez, one of only 12 United States Senators to be indicted, faced charges with 12 counts, including bribery and conspiracy, for allegedly accepting trips and contributions from a friend and campaign donor, Salomon Melgen, M.D, a wealthy ophthalmologist in Florida.

Prosecutors accused of Menendez accepting bribes from Melgen in exchange for intervening with federal agencies on his behalf. Both men pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The U.S. Department of Justice had been facing a deadline at the end of January to either retry the case or drop the charges.

Accordingly, the Justice Department filed to dismiss its remaining charges against Sen. Bob Menendez, bringing the legal case that has hovered over the New Jersey senior senator for years to a close.

The charges against Melgen were also dropped.

“Even with the Justice Department decision to not pursue a re-trial, Menendez’s public approval has been badly damaged by his corruption case involvement,” said Stephen Chapman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science.

Menendez spent years fighting the charges, since he was first indicted in 2015.

Prosecutors said he took gifts from Melgen, including a luxury hotel stay, private jet flights and campaign donations. In exchange, Menendez tried to help Melgen get U.S. visas for his girlfriends, intervene in Melgen’s $8.9 million billing dispute with Medicare, and assist with a port security contract of Melgen’s in the Dominican Republic.

Menendez vehemently criticized the FBI and Justice Department for how they had pursued him, suggesting that his Hispanic heritage — and his roots in New Jersey’s Hudson County, an area with a history of political corruption — may have played a role in their investigations.

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released Nov. 30, 2017, just days after the mistrial, found a majority of New Jersey voters said he should not be reelected. 49 percent of respondents said Menendez should resign.

Currently, Menendez faces three declared senatorial opponents in the NJ Democratic primary. Among them is Michael Starr Hopkins, an attorney who worked on the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns.

However, Chapman said, “Hopkins has far less money on hand than Menendez.”

Despite his poor polling numbers, “Menendez has a large amount of political capital within the state in the form of internal party support and, more importantly, funding,” Chapman said.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, Menendez has roughly $4.1 million, whereas Hopkins has only about $15,000 for all of 2017.

As a result, Chapman explains that the probability of Hopkins making an impact in the primary is unlikely, “unless his poll numbers start to rise and Democrats shift allegiances.”

“This is really about the Democrats trying to hold the line on incumbents and make gains to retake control of the Senate,” Chapman said.

Additionally, Chapman explains that Menendez has an advantage as the presiding senator; a concept in political science of the incumbency advantage, where incumbents regularly retain their seats.

“Multiple explanations have been offered by scholars including funding advantages,” Chapman said, “Franking Privilege, where members of Congress can inundate their constituents with mailings at no cost to their campaign, [as well as] name recognition, among others.”

Among Menendez’s Republican opponents, Bob Hugin has recently announced his candidacy.

Hugin is a former pharmaceutical executive and an ally of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Donald Trump.

“I am offended by Senator Menendez’s actions,” Hugin told a crowd at the Springfield Elks Lodge last Tuesday, Feb. 13,

“He’s violated the public trust and, at the same time, he’s failed the people of New Jersey,” Hugin said.

 “New Jersey deserves better,” Hugin continued. “I’m embarrassed about how people think about New Jersey based on Senator Menendez’s behavior. It’s embarrassing.”

Although Hugin “will bring the potential to somewhat match Menendez in terms of spending given his deep pockets, he starts at a disadvantage,” Chapman said.

“Christie is extremely unpopular within the state and any linkages could be beneficial to the opposition.”

 Moreover, Chapman also notes that New Jersey has nearly a million more registered Democrats than it has Republicans; this “makes it difficult for a Republican to win a state-wide election.”

“I would not be surprised at all to see Menendez win both the primary and general elections,” Chapman said.

Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said “Bob Menendez has just come off a tough trial that caused his approval rating to take a hit.”

 Murray noted that Menendez “has weathered ups and downs in public opinion before.”

“I expect that his Republican opponent will try to make some hay out of issues related to the trial,” he said.

However, “I’m not convinced at this point that he will be able to gain a lot of traction with that strategy given the senator’s track record of fighting off attacks,” Murray added.

IMAGE TAKEN from The Washington Times