Sen. Robert Menendez leaves federal court in Manhattan on June 6. The...

Sen. Robert Menendez leaves federal court in Manhattan on June 6. The Election Day impact of a Menendez conviction, if it comes, is hard to measure. Credit: AP/Yuki Iwamura

For readers and viewers of the political scandals of the day, the trial of Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, might provide relatively light summer fare.

The case doesn’t quite offer the potential electoral implications of the recent convictions of Donald Trump and, to a lesser degree, Hunter Biden. For Trump — newly minted as a convicted felon — the bottom line is direct and obvious. The possible voter impact of the Biden case rests on a Republican leap of faith that the sins of the son will implicate the father.

The Election Day impact of a Menendez conviction, if it comes, is hard to measure. The Garden State’s Democratic Party has already nominated Rep. Andy Kim in the race to succeed Menendez. He’s due to face Republican Curtis Bashaw in the fall. Menendez says he plans to run as an independent. He has been stripped of the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Democrats’ razor-thin Senate majority could depend on a Kim victory.

The multilayered payoff scheme alleged by the Justice Department against Menendez, in tandem with his wife Nadine, is distinctively wide-ranging and relevant to the clout he had as a senior senator. This case, playing out in the Southern District of New York, fits a comfortably familiar theme in U.S. politics — official vice.

Late last year, Menendez was indicted on federal charges that he conspired to act as an unregistered agent for Egypt and helped a friend seek an investment from Qatar.

Beyond that, the prosecution’s case is rich with intrigue involving payment of gold bars, envelopes full of thousands of dollars in cash, and a Mercedes-Benz that a New Jersey businessman said he arranged for Nadine Menendez, then the senator's girlfriend.

Another key part of the alleged scheme involved a meat exporter to the Middle East allegedly enlisting the senator for help in monopolizing halal certifications in the U.S.

One strange detail: Businessman Jose Uribe, who has flipped against Menendez and his wife, testified that at a backyard meeting with brandy and cigars the senator summoned Nadine, his then-girlfriend, by ringing a small bell. (She is now battling a serious medical condition and will be tried separately.)

Also of interest: Menendez tried to discuss a pending criminal case with a former New Jersey attorney general. Gurbir Grewal, the former official, called the attempted intervention “pretty unprecedented in my experience.”

The case draws a seamy caricature of Menendez, who assumed office in 2006, as a grasping politician soaking his office for personal gain.

That suspicion has persisted for some time. He was tried on corruption charges in Newark in 2017, a case that ended in a deadlocked jury and a mistrial. Menendez had been accused of wrongdoing in connection with favors and gifts exchanged between him and a wealthy Florida eye doctor with whom he took sides in a Medicare dispute and other business matters.

The current jury will decide whether Menendez's pushiness broke the law. Whichever way it goes, the result is unlikely to shock or depress those watching at home. As public drama, the senator’s ordeal lacks the pathos of either Trump’s payoff to keep an extramarital dalliance from voters, or of Hunter Biden’s illegal and dangerous gun possession while addicted to narcotics.

Whatever public reaction they generate, all three cases can make those who root for the American future shake their heads.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.


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