Supporters of Menendez are quick to point out that all of the campaign contributions referenced in the indictment were within permissible limits and there is a stunning lack of evidence of any quid pro quo.
The senator essentially claims that prosecutors are misconstruing lawful, innocent acts. But this is what federal prosecutors do. Creative prosecutors see criminality where those less skilled only see compliance. Finding new and imaginative ways to apply criminal statutes is how federal prosecutors forge their careers and advance up the judicial-corporate ladder.
The ongoing "gotcha" game of federal prosecutions calls to mind a report from years back involving prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District in Manhattan. Allegedly, prosecutors there played a game where they would name a historical figure and discuss the federal charges for which they could theoretically be convicted. The names of the "guilty" ranged from John Lennon to Mother Teresa.
As a long-serving United States senator, Menendez cannot feign ignorance about the way in which the Department of Justice (DOJ) operates and how career-driven federal prosecutors ply their trade. Surely, he knows that U.S. federal prisons are bursting at the seams with people railroaded on far less serious accusations and with an even greater dearth of evidence.
Commentators were quick to call this "politics as usual in New Jersey." The idea of politicians working to aid friends and contributors can hardly be called a Jersey thing, but New Jersey has become synonymous with wide-scale political corruption, so such observations can only be expected.
A more accurate description might be "federal prosecutions as usual." The U.S. attorney's office in Newark, NJ has long been a hotbed of prosecutorial misconduct and has produced some of the most extreme examples of those who chose to establish a prosecutorcracy, basically a system under which prosecutions lead to political advancement. The Newark office is where such notable figures as Michael Chertoff, Samuel Alito and Chris Christie successfully built reputations upon the bodies of their victims. And nothing served their purposes better than prosecuting high-profile defendants.
Cases against rapists, murderers and other violent criminals are a dime a dozen, but successfully prosecuting a sitting United States senator is a resume making case, the sort of things upon which prosecutors' careers are built. No purported misdeed is too small if the offending party is a noteworthy, guaranteed to generate publicity type of target. Menendez is certainly familiar with the prosecutorial playbook now being employed against him.
Menendez may have felt insulated to a degree because of his prior support of current U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, Paul Fishman. Vague rumors about purported corruption on Menendez's part had been swirling in New Jersey for years. Earlier false rumors of an imminent indictment were traced back to previous U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. But Christie had a long track record of leaking false information from his Newark office to a sycophantic media that dutifully regurgitated every unfounded innuendo, passing the results off as "news."
And while Menendez is certainly deserving of the same sympathy entitled to any other victim of the grand pernicious scheme that passes for justice on a federal level, one cannot help but wonder what affirmative steps he took as the senior senator from New Jersey to curb the very abuses at the DOJ under which he now founds himself ensnared. It would appear that prior to becoming one of its victims, Menendez had little problem with the way in which "justice" is dispensed in U.S. federal courts. It seems almost certain that his former complacency will soon be replaced with zeal to reign in out of control federal prosecutors and their incredible lack of accountability. A similar metamorphosis was seem in Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, whose federal conviction saw him go from a staunch believer in law and order to outspoken advocate for prison and justice reform. There is probably more than a little truth in the saying that a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested. The problem with Menendez's anticipated conversion is that it will likely come after he is able to meaningfully impact the federal criminal justice system.