Robert Menendez, the senior New Jersey senator, will be retried on federal corruption charges, according to government correspondence filed in federal district court Friday.
Menendez was tried but a hung jury failed to reach a verdict after a two month long trial last fall. All but two jurors voted to acquit Menendez on all charges.
The senior senator walked out of court, proclaiming both his vindication and his intent on vengeance towards those who had written his political epitaph.
The first was incorrect. The second was an indiscretion of alarming magnitude that may cost Menendez his freedom.
A hung jury is not a vindication. It may indicate weaknesses in the government’s case, but it also allows the government to learn from its mistakes. A retrial is not a replay; the case can be repackaged and changed in terms of style (but not substance). Jury selection may be handled differently. Also, a different judge may rule differently on various issues.
Instead, Menendez all but did the Riverdance jig out of Newark federal court two months ago, acting as if he’d been acquitted, exonerated.
Ummmm, not so fast.
Not good was that he made a public spectacle of it, when it wasn’t even true.
And then, even worse was his vowing retribution on political opponents. Outside the courthouse, after the hung trial was declared, Menendez warned adversaries that, “I know who you are” in the most thinly veiled threat this side of Nucky Johnson and Tony Soprano.
I don’t believe the Trump Administration Justice Department had a political animus towards Menendez.
But his false public exoneration claim and mafia-style vow of vengeance, as indiscreet (if not tragic for their hubris) as they were entertaining, probably invited a reexamination of the merits of his prosecution. And this time, that view may have been tipped away from his favor and towards needing to show the public that hubris by elected leaders accused of public corruption cannot go unpunished.
Had Menendez been the contrite “church mouse” and said nothing, he might not have been retried. We may never know.
We do know that his retrial will likely be scheduled soon, and during his reelection year. He faces a November reelection, but an April 2nd petition filing deadline. The party primaries are the first Tuesday in June.
His legal uncertainty, the legal deadlines and the rarity of open Senate seats all mean that ambitious Democrats must look at challenging him. (The Republican Party, of near irrelevance after eight years of wallowing in Chris Christie’s shadow, will have a few challengers to vie for the race, more to establish name recognition for future races than to actually win in November 2018.)
Another item to note is that Menendez was not exactly a progressive beacon in the Senate. He was a strong Hillary backer. In a Democratic Party increasingly rushing towards overt Socialism, a vulnerable Menendez already might have faced a progressive challenger. Now, it’s nearly certain he will see a Bernie Sanders-style “progressive” entertain a primary challenge.