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Menendez downfall could be diplomacy’s windfall

US Politics

Senator Robert Menendez, a powerful democrat from New Jersey, has been down on his luck lately. He is currently under federal investigation for corruption, and although the Senator has denied all allegations, charges are expected to be filed against him any day now. [Update: Menendez was indicted today.]

This is not the first time the senator has been investigated. In fact, his wikipedia page even considers the ‘Controversies’ section too long to read and in need of subsections. Recently, the senator has been accused of using his government position to aid his long-time friend and donor, Dr. Soloman Melgen.

In 2008, when Dr. Melgen got into a dispute for overbilling Medicare, Sen. Menendez used his position on the Finance Committee to push for reforms of the Medicare multidosing policy – a change that would have resulted in millions of dollars more for Melgen’s practice. Menendez also used his power to persuade the Department of Homeland Security not to provide cargo screening equipment to the Dominican Republic since it would hurt the profits from Melgen’s private company, which provides similar equipment.

In both the Medicare and Homeland Security cases, any damage to the financials of Dr. Melgen would probably have damaged the financials of Senator Menendez. In 2012 alone, Dr. Melgen received $21 million dollars in reimbursements from Medicare. In turn, he contributed generously to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DMCC), including contributions upward of $1 million dollars to campaigns and committees Menendez served on. Dr. Melgen has been very generous over the years in the gifts he has given Menendez. “Sen. Menendez’s relationship with Dr. Melgen is transactional: campaign cash and lavish gifts for the senator, official favors and influence for the businessman,” according to Citizens for Ethics and Responsibilities in Washington (CREW). Since the investigations have begun, Menendez has tried to clean up his act by documenting the private gifts and favors given to him by Dr. Melgen, including repaying him $60,000 for several flights he took on Melgen’s private plane.

Menendez’s indictment would be unfortunate for his family, his career, and his reputation, but it could bode well for world peace. While Menendez is progressive on issues such as immigration reform and gay rights, he is a hawk on two key foreign policy issues: Iran and Cuba. As ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, his conservative influence is throwing a wrench in the Administration’s negotiations with both nations. Bucking the positions of President Obama and most of his Democratic colleagues in Congress, Menendez has become “politically valuable” to the Republican party. In fact, more Republicans are outwardly criticizing the Justice Department for its investigation of Menendez than his own Democratic colleagues.

As the most senior of the three Latinos in the Senate (all of whom are of Cuban descent), Menendez could play a leadership role in revamping of relations with Cuba after 54 years of a failed policy. Instead, Menendez opposes the opening. In a Foreign Relations subcommittee meeting on the topic, Menendez stated “It was a bad deal, and I will oppose any further changes to U.S. policy – any additional sanctions relief – that are not conditioned on clear, upfront concessions from the Castro regime that moves the Cuban people toward a free and open democratic government.”

During a recent CODEPINK delegation to Cuba, former Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon called out US officials like Menendez for their hypocrisy. “The US continues to support countries like Saudi Arabia that don’t recognize the right of women but instead focuses on what it says are Cuba’s human rights violations.”

Menendez also supports the crippling Cuba embargo that impoverishes the Cuban people and denies them critical imports, including medical technology from US companies.

As a member of the Human Rights Caucus within the Senate, Menendez should recognize the normalization process as a way to uplift the Cuban people. He should encourage more interactions between Cubans and Americans by lifting the US travel restrictions.

Unfortunately, Menendez is even worse when it comes to Iran. He is the co-author of the Kirk-Menendez bill, which has been threatening the nuclear negotiations between the US and Iran by placing additional sanctions on the Iranian regime before a deal can be reached. Menendez’ position is that of the majority Republican Congress, which is critical of the Iran negotiations due to their alignment with AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the Israeli government.

The Iranians have threatened to walk away from the negotiating table if Congress votes to implement additional sanctions, which is precisely what the Kirk-Menendez bill aims to do. According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, “This bill [Kirk-Menendez] by its many steps to close the window for diplomacy with Iran, could end the international sanctions regime and lead either to a nuclear armed Iran or to a war in which US armed forces might well be active participants.”

A Justice Department indictment—and conviction—of Menendez on ethics violation would be fitting for the senator. Menendez not only plays loose with favors for Dr. Melgen; he plays loose with issues of war and peace. The people of New Jersey, and the rest of the country, deserve better.

About Medea Benjamin and Katie Powers

Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human rights organization Global Exchange. Katie Powers is a sophomore at Northeastern University studying Political Science and International Affairs. She is currently working in the CODEPINK Washington, DC office.

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21 Responses

  1. ckg
    April 1, 2015, 3:58 pm

    Breaking news: US Justice Dept indicts Menendez.

    • just
      April 1, 2015, 4:12 pm

      Hallelujah!!!!!!!! Next up, Dr. Melgen.

      Thanks ckg, Medea, and Katie!

      Viva Cuba! Viva Iran! Viva Palestine!

      (NJ has a problem with a lot of their pols, eh?)

      Edit~ “WASHINGTON—The Justice Department indicted Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey on corruption charges Wednesday, bringing the first criminal charges against a sitting U.S. senator since the botched prosecution of Alaska’s Ted Stevens seven years ago.

      Mr. Menendez, 61 years old, has said he plans to fight any charges, which are the culmination of a two-year investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the relationship between the senator and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.

      A federal grand jury in Newark, N.J., handed down a 14-count indictment, charging Mr. Menendez with crimes including conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud. Dr. Melgen was also charged in relation with the alleged scheme.”

      Yep, Melgen is charged, too!

  2. Kay24
    April 1, 2015, 4:48 pm

    I am glad that this man (who I never voted for, thankfully) is going to be held responsible for the corruption he has been involved with. From the beginning of his senate career, he has been under a dark cloud of suspicion, and the problems in some caribbean nation (sex parties?) mysteriously seems to vanish before he was elected. Menendez’s good friend, Melgen, seems a slimy character, and this sudden loyalty and love for Israel, seems strange. It is making him work against his own President, and supporting a foreign leader from an alien nation. He is what we can call a slime ball, who unfortunately is the Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, but instead of working for the US, seems to be doing the work for the rogue state of Israel. If found guilty, Menendez should face the stiffest punishment, and perhaps the state of New Jersey can get rid of yet another corrupt politician.

    • Kay24
      April 1, 2015, 4:55 pm

      By the way, does anyone know what is happening about the Dirty Dershowitz case? It seems to be have quietened down. Did someone make that go away too?

      • annie
        April 1, 2015, 8:57 pm

        some one(s) made it go away from the press, but it has not ‘gone away’. my hunch is that things quieted down considerably after b.clinton was named as one of the people on the plane – given hilary’s presumed run for the presidency (that has yet to be announced).

        but who knows. this is not the end of it yet tho. that’s for sure.

        Billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein sent $3.5 million to Bill and Hillary Clinton‘s foundation after an underage sex slave probe began, according to secret Swiss bank records leaked by a whistleblower.

        As has previously reported, Hillary Clinton is reconsidering her 2016 presidential bid because of fears of the embarrassing revelations that could emerge in the coming months about Bill Clinton’s dealings with Epstein.

        oh look, from a week ago..mentions

        What hardball PR and legal tactics will Hillary Clinton’s campaign use to try to make this potential problem—which could potentially derail her planned presidential bid—disappear? Will those tactics work, or is Ms. Clinton’s campaign already dead, even if the exact time of the funeral is not yet known?

        Why is the Left-Wing Media Machine pretending that anyone who asks questions about the Epstein-Clinton connection is a paid stooge of the Right-Wing Media Machine? And why is the Right-Wing Media Machine, which would normally be gleefully talking about this or any sordid affair involving the Clintons, being unusually reserved in hyping the case? (Hint: Because some notable conservatives and prominent supporters of Israel — a constituency that used to reside solidly in the Democratic camp but which the GOP in recent years has been wooing, with some notable success— have been implicated in the Epstein scandal too.)

        ……Philip Weiss wrote an astonishing story about Mr. Epstein..

      • ckg
        April 1, 2015, 10:08 pm

        A few days ago Dershowitz was at a bar boasting and predicting to friends,“She’s going to jail…Now she’s put herself on the record under oath.”

      • lysias
        April 2, 2015, 10:58 am

        ckg, Dersh looks like death warmed over in that photo, he’s so pale.

      • ckg
        April 2, 2015, 5:20 pm

        Dersh looks like death warmed over

        lysias, Imagine her thoughts.

    • lysias
      April 1, 2015, 5:39 pm

      Menendez no longer chairman, since the Senate changed hands. Now just ranking member. And, after his indictment, he may soon be stripped of that.

      • ckg
        April 1, 2015, 10:24 pm

        Could be. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Schumer wanted to keep his buddy in power as long as possible.

      • Kay24
        April 2, 2015, 7:49 am

        Well, he certainly has done an extremely loyal job for Israel. Even back stabs Obama as needed.

      • lysias
        April 3, 2015, 6:36 pm

        They let Menendez keep his ranking member position in that banking subcommittee. Sure looks as if the reason for the timing of his indictment was to get him out of his leadership position in the Foreign Relations Committee.

  3. lysias
    April 1, 2015, 5:42 pm

    Guess what? Before the news of the indictment, it came out that Menendez was one of the leaders of a group of senators seeking to move the 2018 World Cup away from Russia.

  4. John Fearey
    John Fearey
    April 1, 2015, 8:25 pm

    Great piece. And such good news. I haven’t actually read it ( it’s on my list), but Zephyr Teachout recently wrote a well received book on corruption in the US. If I knew how to work this IPad, I’d send you the link to the review of it in NYRB, from which I gathered she describes how the good old founding fathers and mothers were really, really concerned about the vulnerability of democracy to corruption and, secondly, how legislators (both state and federal) have made it nearly impossible for prosecutors brave enough to pursue such charges to obtain convictions.
    Let’s hope the Justice Department gets its man.

  5. lonely rico
    lonely rico
    April 1, 2015, 8:44 pm

    >John Fearey

    Zephyr Teachout recently wrote a well received book on corruption in the US … the link to the review of it in NYRB (Sept. 25, 2014)

  6. Kay24
    April 1, 2015, 10:36 pm

    How Boehner fared in Israel:


    No standing ovations eh?

  7. JLewisDickerson
    April 1, 2015, 11:24 pm

    RE: “Sen. Menendez’s relationship with Dr. Melgen is transactional: campaign cash and lavish gifts for the senator, official favors and influence for the businessman,” according to Citizens for Ethics and Responsibilities in Washington (CREW).

    MY COMMENT: That’s why I refer to our “cash and carry” Congress!

    A RELEVANT QUOTATION FROM 1966: “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” ~ Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, Speaker of the California Assembly from 1961 to 1968

    “You can’t use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!” ~ From ‘The Education of Henry Adams’*, By Henry Brooks Adams, 1838-1918 (American journalist-historian-academic-novelist; grandson of President John Quincy Adams; great-grandson of President John Adams)

    “You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.” ~ Mark Twain [Meaning that one’s opinions can be told based on where that person got their bread (i.e., money).]
    SOURCE –

    * P.S.
    • FREE KINDLE & OTHER FORMATS: The Education of Henry Adams, by Henry Adams –
    • FREE EBOOK & OTHER FORMATS: The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography

  8. concernedhuman
    April 2, 2015, 2:42 am

    Its about time the Democrats clean the party get rid of politicians sold to warmongering influential lobbies.

    • Kay24
      April 2, 2015, 11:09 am

      That would leave them with almost no one standing. :))

  9. Boomer
    April 2, 2015, 1:18 pm

    Is this a joke?

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