On Wednesday morning, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) began a lengthy trial into twelve corruption charges that puts his Senate seat in serious jeopardy for Democrats. This is the first time in 36 years that a sitting senator has been involved in a bribery trial, so it might earn some decent media coverage.
Even so, CNN and other mainstream media outlets have been ignoring or downplaying the story, and The New York Times did something particularly egregious in its writeup. Meanwhile, the outrage of Melania Trump’s high heels received a great deal of air time, and NewsBusters reported that a whopping 99 percent of coverage from the big three networks was negative against Trump’s decision to reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
To make matters worse, Nick Corasaniti’s long writeup in The New York Times failed to mention that Menendez is a Democrat. Conservatives across Twitter realized the omission, prompting Corasaniti to explain it. “Not odd, just an oversight on my part after drafts. Adding back now,” the Times reporter tweeted.
Thanks Evan. Not odd, just an oversight on my part after drafts. Adding back now.
— Nick Corasaniti (@NYTnickc) September 5, 2017
At the same time, Corasaniti claimed omitting Menendez’s political party was an “oversight,” but then he let slip that it was consciously removed from the “drafts.” His admission that he would add it back revealed that it was actually removed — and hence, not an “oversight.” NBC News also incorrectly labeled Menendez a “Republican.”
Naturally, the DACA slant and the “Democrat” ommission helps explain the Menendez blackout: the liberal media is hesitant to cover stories about Democrat vulnerabilities and lusty to cover negative stories about Republicans or just Trump outrage in general. If any Republican — or anyone remotely connected to Trump — were in the kind of trouble Menendez is in right now, there would be wall-to-wall coverage.
So what trouble is the senator facing?
The 63-year-old senator cannot deny basic facts. Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist, bestowed upon Menendez lavish gifts over a long period of time. Melgen gave him private flights, luxury accommodations, free vacations — all of which Menendez initially failed to disclose — and he gave more than $700,000 in direct and indirect political contributions to the senator.
“The trial, which is expected to last six to eight weeks, hinges not necessarily on the concrete evidence that the government has collected, but rather on subjective questions about intent, friendship and ‘official acts,'” Corasaniti reported.
Specifically, “the legal case revolves around whether those gifts were permissible as gifts a friend could give to another, or whether they were part of a longstanding bribery arrangement where Mr. Menendez would intervene to protect the financial and personal interests of Dr. Melgen in return for his gifts and donations.”
Even this — mostly accurate — reporting by Corasaniti carries a slant, however. The prosecution’s brief against Menendez argues that even in a friendship, defendants could be found guilty of corruption. “With respect to claims of friendship in particular, it is not uncommon for defendants to establish some evidence of friendship in bribery cases but still be found guilty,” the brief noted.
The case rests on whether or not Melgen’s gifts to Menendez constituted true bribery and corruption, and there is evidence to suggest that they did.
In the brief, prosecutors alleged that Menendez started taking briefs from Melgen shortly after the senator’s election, and that most of his efforts on Melgen’s behalf came after large donations to re-election efforts and legal defense funds.
Even Corasantini’s report in The New York Times laid out two conspicuous events.
When Melgen needed help to resolve a contract dispute for an X-ray operating company he owned in the Dominican Republic, he donated $60,000 to various political groups and super PACs supporting Menendez, according to the brief. On the very same day, the senator met with an assistant secretary to press that exact issue.
Similarly, when Melgen needed quick changes to a Medicare reimbursement program, he donated $300,000 to Majority PAC, a super PAC supporting Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate. The very same day, Menendez met with officials at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and a month later he met with then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Menendez’s lawyers argue that the senator was acting on broad policies consistent with his policy views and that he did not give Melgen any special favors.
Another interesting factor in this case comes from recent history on bribery cases. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down the corruption convictions of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, a Republican. In the case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. argued that “a more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this court.”
Roberts argued that “setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.'” Therefore, when McDonnell arranged meetings and events to promote vitamin projects from the company Star Scientific, he was not engaging in official corruption, despite the fact that Star Scientific’s owner Jonnie Williams had given him more than $175,000 in gifts and loans.
Corasaniti predicted that Menendez’s legal team would argue along similar lines, saying that making an “official act” is even more challenging without the unilateral power of an executive office.
“If they can make this seem like the Virginia governor’s case, that was McDonnell, that he’s just doing what we want a responsible politician to do, he’s creating opportunities for a friend — who parenthetically is not a constituent — that he’s being responsive, he’s opening a door, he’s providing opportunities, that can help,” Mala Ahuja Harker, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey, told The Times.
But Harker ominously added, “The problem for the defense is that in this case the facts suggest that he went much further than that.”
Both The New York Times and New Jersey’s The Star Ledger (which endorsed Menendez in 2012) have called on Menendez to resign. “He would be doing a disservice to New Jersey by clinging to power as a disgraced politician,” The Times editorial board wrote.
The Star-Ledger proved even more brutal. “New Jersey would be better off if he would resign and conduct that battle on his own time,” the editors wrote. “The state needs a respected senator who is focused on his job, not a tarnished defendant who spends his days fending off credible charges of corruption and raising money for his legal defense.”
The Star-Ledger contrasted Menendez with U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), who used campaign funds to finance trips to Scotland and Los Angeles. “Andrews, who denies breaking ethics rules, at least had the decency to resign rather than put his constituents at a disadvantage while he fought for personal redemption” (emphasis added). Ouch.
But Menendez isn’t just putting “personal redemption” ahead of New Jersey voters — he’s trying to protect his party. If he were to resign, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would be able to appoint a Republican to the U.S. Senate until the November 2018 election.
By choosing to fight it out, however, Menendez is also hurting the Democratic Party. He effectively forces Democrats to denounce him or to stand on record supporting bribery. If Menendez is guilty (and the evidence looks rather damning), and Democrats fail to attack him, they can be seen as complicit — and face steeper challenges for 2018. If Menendez is innocent, Democrats still have little to gain by standing by him, and in either case the scandal weakens the party going into the 2018 elections.
This is why the media doesn’t want to cover this juicy story — no matter what happens, it puts Democrats in a bad light. (The New York Times tacitly admitted as much by trying to hide the fact Menendez is a Democrat.)
The fact remains, federal prosecutors say Menendez “sold his office for a lifestyle he could not afford.”
Perhaps in a last-ditch effort to seem like he isn’t a drag on his constituents, the senator is keeping a busy schedule, and he attended a rally of about 100 people outside a federal immigration building Wednesday afternoon. The protesters were gathered against Trump’s decision to end DACA, The Washington Times reported.
“We can keep the dream alive. You are not alone,” Menendez told the crowd.
That is exactly the Democratic Party’s problem — they are not alone. Menendez is with them, no matter how much the media wants you to stay ignorant of the story.