Senate Ethics Committee unlikely to take any quick action against Menendez

 September 27, 2023

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was criminally indicted last week on federal bribery, fraud, and extortion charges but it seems highly unlikely that the Senate Ethics Committee will take any sort of swift action against him, Politico reported.

That is because the committee is "notoriously slow-moving" and members are often hesitant to act against colleagues who've merely been accused of wrongdoing.

Senate Ethics Committee won't act any time soon

According to Politico, the "sleepy" bipartisan six-member committee is comprised of Democratic Chair Chris Coons (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), plus Republican Vice-Chair James Lankford (R-OK), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Jim Risch (D-ID).

The committee released a joint statement on Friday after the federal indictment against Sen. Menendez was announced and said, "In response to repeated requests from the press, we want to reaffirm that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics does not comment on matters pending before the Committee or matters that may come before the Committee."

"Also, absent special circumstances, it has been the long-standing policy of the Committee to yield investigation into matters where there is an active and ongoing criminal investigation or proceeding so as not to interfere in that process," the committee added.

In other words, the committee won't be making any public comments about the Menendez indictment and might not even begin to probe the matter until after the indicted New Jersey senator has already faced trial for his alleged crimes.

That said, Politico noted that the Senate Ethics Committee did "severely admonish" Menendez once before in 2018, albeit several months after federal prosecutors had dropped corruption charges filed a year earlier against the senator that resulted in a partial acquittal and hung jury during trial.

Menendez criminally charged

On Friday, the Justice Department announced that it had unsealed an indictment that charged Sen. Menendez with three conspiracy counts that included conspiracies to commit bribery, honest services fraud, and extortion under color of official right, which combined total up to a possible maximum sentence of 45 years in prison.

Also charged in the alleged conspiracy were the senator's wife Nadine and three associates who are local businessmen. Menendez is alleged to have accepted bribes in the form of cash, a luxury convertible, gold bars, and other items of value, including home mortgage payments, various home furnishings, and pay for a "no-show" job for his wife.

In exchange for those bribes, the senator is alleged to have used his influential and powerful position to call in favors for two of the associates facing criminal investigation and prosecution of themselves or other associates and taking action on behalf of the third to benefit the interests of the government and military of Egypt.

Growing Democratic calls for Menendez to resign

According to the Associated Press, Sen. Menendez has proclaimed his innocence and stood defiant against mounting demands from his fellow Democrats to resign from his seat in the U.S. Senate -- though he did agree to at least temporarily step down from his influential role as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Roughly half of his Democratic Senate colleagues have called for Menendez to resign, including fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker as well as Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that helps fund incumbents seeking re-election but might withhold support from Menendez or even back a primary challenger if he seeks another term in office next year.

Those Democratic senators are joined in calling for the resignation of Menendez by dozens of House Democrats and state legislators and officials, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

For what it is worth, President Joe Biden's White House has thus far refrained from joining the chorus demanding resignation as it instead deferred the matter as one for Senate leadership to decide.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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