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On April 1, 2015, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in Newark, NJ on 14 counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, honest-services fraud and the making of false statements.
The essence of the charges against Menendez alleges that he used his influence as a senator for the benefit of a long-time friend and campaign contributor. This allegation appears to beg the question of exactly why people donate to and befriend politicians in the first place. One could argue that the failure to assist a friend and contributor might better constitute the basis for criminal charges. Similarly, one must wonder who would govern if every elected official were imprisoned for exerting influence on behalf of friends and contributors. Perhaps the feds really have the goods on Menendez, but the initial description of his alleged misdeeds sounds a lot like run-of- the-mill politics.
But these kinds of fluid, vague and amorphous allegations are perfectly suited for U.S. federal courts, where criminality is basically whatever the prosecutor deems to be illegal. Prosecutions like Mendez's bolster the view that federal prosecutors do not investigate crimes, they investigate people. Begin with an intended target, put them under the proverbial microscope and examine until something fits within the parameters of the growing and expansive federal Criminal Code. With many federal "offenses" being little more than catchalls, it is usually only a matter of time before a federal prosecutor can twist some pattern of behavior into the basis for a federal criminal indictment.
Menendez has denied any wrongdoing and like so many other federal defendants, likely has committed no intentional crime, at least in his mind"and now finds himself entombed within a federal criminal matter in which the full force of the United States government will be mercilessly pitted against the accused.
These decided mismatches have given way to a criminal conviction rate of 99.5% in U.S. federal courts. It is more akin to what one would expect in a banana republic or Third World dictatorship. The feds are loath to admit the near statistical certainty of a conviction in a U.S. federal court and as a result, trials there are becoming increasingly scarce with approximately 97% opting to waive trial and enter a plea of guilty. The 99.5% figure is, on its face, patently illegitimate and highly indicative of exactly awaits Menendez.
Yet Menendez came out swinging immediately after the indictment was announced. "I'm outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigation three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me," Menendez said, during a press conference at a local hotel. "But I will not be silenced."
"At the end of the day I will be vindicated, and they will be exposed," he added.
Menendez further explained that "Prosecutors at the Justice Department don't know the difference between friendship and corruption. Rather, they have chosen to twist my duties as a senator, and my friendship, into something that is improper. They are dead wrong."
He continued, "I am angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don't know the difference between friendship and corruption."