One month ago, on Sept. 6, 2017, the corruption trial of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., began in a federal courthouse in Newark. If this article is the first you’ve heard of a Democratic member of the Senate on trial for corruption, you shouldn’t be surprised.
While the media have covered the trial, it has not been the wall-to-wall coverage reserved for when Republicans or conservatives find themselves in trouble. The one-month anniversary of the trial’s start is a good time to take a look back at the five things from the trial you should know.
1. THE MEDIA IS BARELY COVERING IT
Earlier this week when Congressman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., found himself embroiled in a nasty scandal involving a mistress, and asking that mistress to abort a child. The media pounced. The amount of coverage rightfully given that scandal dwarfs coverage of the Menendez trial.
From Oct. 1, to mid-afternoon on Oct. 6, Sen. Menendez was mentioned 265 times on television and radio, according to the TV Eyes Media Monitoring Suite. During the same period, despite the Murphy scandal hitting on Oct. 4, Murphy’s name was mentioned a staggering 3,857 times.
Looking at CNN, the mentions were three times for Menendez, versus seven for Murphy. On MSNBC, Murphy was mentioned 12 times, and Menendez zero. Most of the media mentions for Murphy were on radio, but the fact remains that the Republican Murphy received over 10 times more coverage than Menendez.
In addition to contemporaneously looking at Murphy and Menendez, the media coverage of the Menendez trial pales in comparison to what the coverage of then-Senator Ted Stevens’ trial was in 2008. NewsBusters reports that CNN has sporadically covered the Menendez trial, but gave multiple updates in the same day regularly for the Stevens trial.
If you’ve not heard about the ongoing trial, it is not a surprise why; the coverage has been very sparse. A notable exception to the rule, however, is that the New York Times has covered extensively, mainly because the trial involves a sitting U.S. senator in its primary coverage area.
2. WHAT ARE THE CHARGES?
American Commitment’s Phil Kerpen – who also contributes to Conservative Review – outlined the basics of the corruption case in an opinion piece at the New York Post. Here’s what Kerpen describes as a “new low for blatant corruption in the U.S.”:
Menendez is facing charges that he sold his US Senate office to a Palm Beach, Fla., eye doctor, his co-defendant Salomon Melgen, for bribes in the form of private jets stocked with Menendez’s favorite beverages, a private villa at one of the lushest resorts in the Caribbean, and a Paris hotel suite for which Melgen spent 650,000 American Express points …
… That relationship allowed Menendez to enjoy a lifestyle far beyond his legitimate income of $174,000. It was a life of luxury funded by one of the largest Medicare frauds in history, a $105 million scheme for which Melgen has already been convicted on 67 counts of fraud in a separate federal trial in Florida.
In return, Menendez allegedly got Melgen visas for his girlfriends, pressured the State Department to deliver a Dominican port-security contract and pressed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to approve the massive Medicare overbilling scheme that kept the good times rolling.
3. OBAMA’S HHS SECRETARY TESTIFIED
The prosecution is sparing no witness. Earlier this week, Obama Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified that she knew Menendez was acting on behalf of his rich friend and co-defendant Salomon Melgen, but took a meeting with the senator because Harry Reid asked her to. Nick Corasaniti of the New York Times reported:
Kathleen Sebelius, the former secretary of Health and Human Services, testified on Tuesday that she frequently met with members of Congress about policy issues, but that a meeting in 2012 with Senator Robert Menendez was unusual because it came after a request from another member: Senator Harry Reid.
“It was unusual for Senator Reid to ask me to come to a meeting involving another member of Congress,” she said. “I think this was the only time in five and a half years that that occurred.”
What also made the meeting different, Ms. Sebelius added, was the topic. “I was asked to discuss a practice involving a billing issue before Medicare and Medicaid services,’’ she said. “That was not something that I was personally involved in on a basis like this.”
The direct involvement of Reid is another subplot that could ensnare more Democrats in this scandal.
4. REID WILL OR WON’T TESTIFY
The question of whether or not former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will testify has been a hot topic. As Sebelius’ testimony showed, Reid has been linked to the scandal; his name has appeared on the prosecution witness list.
The Washington Post has reported that prosecutors will not call Reid, as they continue their portion of the trial. But that does not mean that Reid will not end up testifying. The defense could still call him as a witness to try and poke holes in the previous testimony of Sebelius.
The Democratic Party may have dodged a bullet with Reid not being on the stand. His testimony may have led to more people getting ensnared, or more questions being raised.
5. NO PRESSURE FOR MENENDEZ TO RESIGN
The most egregious thing to come out of the entire scandal is that there is neither a call by his fellow Democrats for Menendez to resign if convicted, in a story for CNN.com, Manu Raju reported that not only did Menendez refuse to say he will resign, but said his “poll numbers ‘will rise.’”
Raju also reported that a Suffolk Poll reported that over 80 percent of New Jersians polled said Sen. Bob Menendez should resign if convicted.
That’s where the trial stands today. As major events warrant, come back to Conservative Review for more coverage.