The corruption trial of Democratic Senator Robert Menendez finally came to an end today as the judge declared a mistrial. After lengthy deliberation, the jury was unable to deliver a unanimous verdict.
Menendez was accused of using his influence as a Senator to help a personal friend, ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen. In exchange, the prosecution argued, the Senator received contributions totaling more than $750,000 in addition to lavish gifts, including several overseas trips. Salomon was a co-defendant in the trial, and the two men faced a combined 18 bribery and corruption-related counts.
Criminal Justice and Public Trust
According to media reports, the prosecution had wanted the presiding federal judge to advise the jury that a partial verdict could be delivered. However, they were deadlocked on all counts.
Although the federal government could push for a retrial, that prospect may be unlikely. In the case of bribery charges, a direct quid pro quo must be proven. Menendez’s friendship with Salomon stretches back some 20 years, existing before the former became a US Senator.
The bar for proving corruption is high. While most Americans would probably agree that elected officials should be held to a high standard, the difficulty in successfully prosecuting a senior official on corruption charges is necessary. Were the criteria too broad, the federal government could face a situation in which, for politically partisan reasons, such charges were constantly filed against public servants.
Menendez Faces Possible Ethics Investigation
Evidence the server might yield is crucial to Following the ruling, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for the Ethics Committee to investigate the New Jersey Senator. According to a CNN report, McConnell said, “[Menendez] is one of only 12 US senators to have been indicted in our history. His trial shed light on serious accusations of violating the public’s trust as an elected official, as well as potential violations of the Senate’s Code of Conduct.”
Whether any crime was committed, the Menendez affair should call into question the ability of elected federal officials being to receive gifts – such as expenses-paid trips – from private individuals, companies, or special interest groups. There is little public trust in government officials, as it is. Certainly, Congress would do well to reconsider such practices, for members of both houses.
Menendez had been under investigation for several years, yet the trial was hardly reported in the establishment media. Political observers, along with both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, have been anticipating its outcome with one eye on the political landscape. Had Menendez been convicted, he could have faced prison time or, at least, expulsion from the upper house. That would have left outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to appoint a replacement. Given the Republican Party’s precarious Senate majority, such an outcome might have proven significant – at least in the short term.
Even assuming the Senate Ethics Committee takes up the Menedez case, it is likely that this career politician will retain his seat. Like so many in Congress – on either side of the aisle – Menendez represents the rot that is so deeply embedded in the institutions of government.