The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

New Details in Senator Menendez’s Corruption Case

First, your Harvey update: Floodwaters led to a series of explosions in a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early this morning. Port Arthur is now underwater, and the death toll has risen to 37.

Now, making the clickthrough worthwhile: the prosecution releases the details of Senator Bob Menendez’s case, Richard Parker eulogizes the “death” of Texas’s rugged individualism in Politico Magazine, and baseball errs (and then makes amends) with its plans for the Astros.

Do Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

The prosecution in the Bob Menendez trial has released the details of its case against the New Jersey senator and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen. Menendez was indicted for accepting a slew of bribes from Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen in exchange for promoting Melgen’s business.

Flights on a private jet, vacations in a Paris hotel suite and a Caribbean villa, and nearly $800,000 in campaign contributions were some of the bribes Sen. Bob Menendez received to promote the business and personal interests of Florida eye specialist Salomon Melgen, a 14-count federal indictment charged Wednesday.

In exchange, the indictment said, Menendez tried to help Melgen keep $9 million that Medicare said he overbilled the government; pressed the State Department to provide visas so Melgen’s girlfriends from Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine could study in or visit Florida; and pushed for federal pressure to sway the Dominican government over a port security contract Melgen owned.

Menendez and Melgen have been friends for more than 20 years, and the senator has stressed that they often exchanged gifts. To get a conviction, legal experts said, the government is going to have to prove that the benefits Melgen provided were specifically tied to official actions by Menendez.

The trial may have immediate political consequences: The prosecution is attempting to shoot down the senator’s request for breaks during the trial so he can attend Senate votes or participate in debate. Prosecutors argue that the regular activities of the court and its pursuit of justice shouldn’t be put on hold for politics.

Menendez’s absence would increase the GOP’s thin 52-48 margin in the Senate, which might make things a bit easier for Mitch McConnell. Of course, that would also mean Menendez’s constituents wouldn’t be fully represented in the Senate in the interim, and there are many crucial issues that will be taken up in the next few months (e.g., the debt ceiling, funding the government, a Hurricane Harvey–relief bill, etc.).

To put Menendez’s trial in historical context, of the twelve sitting senators who have been indicted, four were acquitted, one had his charges dropped, and two of the verdicts were overturned. That only four senators have been convicted of a crime while in office certainly says something about our democracy. It’s reassuring to know we live in a country where the senators might not be as corrupt as we think.

Unless that is . . . you’re from New Jersey, which is the only state to have two senators indicted. The other, Harrison Williams, was also one of the four convicted.

Messing with Texas

Richard Parker, writing in Politico Magazine, offers his analysis of the situation in Texas:

When Gov. Greg Abbott won election in 2014, he said of his agenda: “We will celebrate the frontier spirit of rugged individualism.” Since then, he and the legislature have sought to limit government power — except their own. They have enabled individuals to more freely carry guns and knives and diverted taxpayer money from public to private schools. Most recently, Abbott led the failed effort to nullify local tree ordinances — regulations limiting tree removal — because these posed, Abbott argued, a threat to individual freedom.

But Harvey has changed all that.

“A Texas-sized storm requires a Texas-sized response, and that is exactly what the state will provide,” Abbott said Monday in Corpus Christi. “While we have suffered a great deal, the resiliency and bravery of Texans’ spirits is something that can never be broken. As communities are coming together in the aftermath of this storm, I will do everything in my power to make sure they have what they need to rebuild.”

This is a man whose signature boast was that he got up every day, went to work and sued the federal government, who has called for a constitutional convention to strip power from Washington and yet, on Monday, said, “To see the swift response from the federal government is pretty much unparalleled.”

Parker’s tone deafness — in an article positing that Harvey’s legacy might signal the end of “the Lone Star State’s rugged individualism” — is hard to fathom. While state, local (and federal) officials seem to have reacted competently under the circumstances, the true story of the last week has been private citizens spontaneously rising to the occasion to help their families, friends, and communities in need. The “Cajun Navy” of flat-bottom boats, canoes, and bass boats is the product of the local citizenry — not the federal behemoth in Washington or even the state government in Austin.

To Parker, “self-reliance” must mean something like “dying in a flood before letting the government help” — most Texans, however, believe it means taking the initiative to help your neighbors, your community, and even strangers in an emergency. also ignores the fact that Texans — and most Americans — don’t hate the federal government, they just don’t trust it, especially when it comes to disaster relief. Governor Abbot’s award of an “A+” to FEMA isn’t some sacrifice of rugged conservative values, it’s an acknowledgement of a government that’s functioning properly.

Then, Politico published a cartoon (in a now deleted tweet) accusing Texans of hypocrisy for accepting federal aid while the state harbors a secession movement:

Already, the prediction that baseball can help heal a broken community is coming true. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner commented that the decision will “provide an opportunity for families to start returning to some aspect of familiar life.” Baseball has the power to bring people together, distract them from hardship, and give them something to root for. The people of Houston — and all Texans — certainly need all three.

Also, the Astros have announced that the Carlos Correa jerseys the team had planned to give away during the game will now go to a local charity, and the first 5,000 tickets will go to first responders.

Well done, Astros.

ADDENDA: Planned Parenthood asked its Twitter followers to “Fill in the blank: The person I’m going out with can never ______. Tell us your dating dealbreakers.” Unsurprisingly, it backfired on them, with comments ranging from “Think abortion is acceptable” to “Sell kids for spare parts.”

Editor’s Note: The article originally referenced “Politico’s Richard Parker’s analysis” of Hurricane Harvey and its effect on Texas. The wording has been changed to clarify that Parker, whose opinion piece was published in Politico Magazine, is a freelance columnist from Texas.

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