He is refusing to step down.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
Today's read: 13 minutes.
- The Writers Guild of America is set to vote on a new three-year contract, which could potentially end the union’s strike today. Details of the contract are still sparse. (The deal)
- The Texas gunman who killed 23 people in a 2019 attack at a Walmart has agreed to pay more than $5 million to the families of victims. The shooter was sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences. (The deal)
- United Kingdom police have opened an investigation into the sexual assault allegations against actor and influencer Russell Brand. (The charges)
- Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) are planning to debate each other in November, according to Fox News. Fox News host Sean Hannity will moderate. (The debate)
- Steven Cheung, the spokesperson for former President Trump, deleted a social media post and reversed course after claiming Trump purchased a gun during a campaign stop at a South Carolina gun store. It is a federal crime to receive a firearm while under felony federal indictment or to sell a firearm to someone under felony federal indictment. (The reversal)
Sen. Bob Menendez. On Friday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his wife Nadine were indicted on three federal bribery charges related to corruption, including secretly aiding the government of Egypt and attempting to influence several prosecutions in exchange for cash, gold and other valuables. Menendez, a high-ranking Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has denied the charges and so far refused calls to resign, though he did step down as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The three-count indictment alleges that Menendez helped orchestrate a plan to increase U.S. assistance to Egypt and corruptly help a friend of his wife, American-Egyptian Wael Hana, who founded a halal meat certification business in New Jersey. Nadine Menendez was accused of acting as a go-between for the scheme, passing messages to Hana. Menendez was also accused of using his position to influence criminal investigations into two New Jersey businessmen: Fred Daibes, a real estate developer and Menendez fundraiser, and Jose Uribe, who works in trucking and insurance.
The central charge in the indictment is that in 2018, Mrs. Menendez (then Nadine Arslanian) and Hana arranged meetings between Egyptian officials and Sen. Menendez, whom she had just started dating. During the meetings, Egyptian officials made requests related to foreign military sales and financial aid. In return for Sen. Menendez’s promise to facilitate those sales, Hana said he would put Arslanian on his payroll in a job that required little or no work.
In 2019, the Egyptian government made Hana's company the sole entity in the United States that authorized halal meat imported from Egypt as being prepared according to Islamic law. After a U.S. Department of Agriculture official alleged the deal created a monopoly and harmed U.S. interests, the indictment says Sen. Menendez intervened, calling the official to insist he drop his opposition.
In another instance, Menendez is alleged to have obtained sensitive nonpublic information from the State Department about the number of people serving at the U.S. embassy in Egypt, which he texted to his wife, who then forwarded the message to Hana, who in turn sent it to an Egyptian official. At another point, Mrs. Menendez complained to her husband that she had not received a check from Haibes and asked if she should text him. Sen. Menendez told her, "No, you should not text or email." Shortly after, Mrs. Menendez called Haibes, and was then issued a $10,000 check from Hana to a consulting firm she runs.
In exchange for pushing to increase assistance to Egypt and attempting to intervene in the investigations, Menendez and his wife purportedly accepted cash, gold, payments toward a mortgage, the luxury car, and other valuables.
When investigators searched the Menendez home and a safety deposit box under Mrs. Menendez's name, they found $550,000 in cash. Much of it was hidden in closets, clothing, and a safe, and some cash had the DNA and fingerprints of Daibes on it. The investigators also found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars, photos of which were included in the indictment. Investigators also say Menendez once entered a search query online that asked "how much is one kilo of gold worth."
Mr. Menendez rebuked the charges, saying the issue will be “successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented.” He claimed he keeps the cash for emergencies because of his family’s history of being raided in Cuba, and also alleged that he is being targeted by both federal prosecutors and lawmakers because he is a prominent Latino. "It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat," Menendez said in a statement.
Several prominent New Jersey Democrats have called on Menendez to step down, including Gov. Phil Murphy and the New Jersey Democratic Party chair. New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim announced he would run against Menendez if he doesn’t resign. California Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter have both called on him to resign, as have Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY). Ocasio-Cortez also pushed back on the idea he was being targeted for his ethnicity.
"As a Latina, there are absolutely ways in which there is systemic bias. But I think what is here in this indictment is quite clear," she said during a CBS interview.
However, Senators John Fetterman (PA), Sherrod Brown (OH), Peter Welch (VT), and Cory Booker (NJ) are the only Democrats in the Senate to have called for his resignation, with Booker doing so only minutes before publication. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (IL) said Menendez should enjoy the presumption of innocence, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) issued a statement Friday praising Menendez as a dedicated public servant.
This isn't Menendez's first corruption allegation. In 2017, he was charged with helping a Florida eye doctor navigate allegations of Medicare fraud in exchange for $1 million worth of gifts and campaign contributions. That trial ended with a deadlocked jury in 2017.
Today, we're going to break down some reactions from the left and right, then my take.
What the left is saying.
- The left largely agrees that Menendez should resign given the gravity of the charges.
- Some suggest recent Supreme Court rulings on corruption cases have emboldened politicians like Menendez to behave with impunity.
- Others point out the differences between Republicans and Democrats in their responses to corruption within their own ranks.
In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin said “Democrats need to shove Menendez off the stage.”
“The Democratic Senator’s indictment refutes the GOP’s enraged allegations — on full display Wednesday in House Republicans’ interrogation of Attorney General Merrick Garland over the indictment of Hunter Biden — that the Justice Department has been ‘weaponized’ against Republicans. Yet this is a moment of choosing for Democrats. Unlike their GOP counterparts, they should not feel compelled to cover their eyes and ears when one of their own appears to be caught red-handed,” Rubin wrote. Republicans’ refusal to do the same with figures like George Santos and Trump “is precisely why Democrats need to shove Menendez off the political stage. If they want to be the guardians of democracy, the rule of law and truth-telling, they cannot mimic Republicans’ partisan hackery.”
“Democrats have risen above partisanship before. During the early stages of the #MeToo movement, Senate Democrats pushed out Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), who resigned in 2017 over conduct that was much less egregious and certainly noncriminal, than that alleged against Menendez… One could argue that they acted too hastily with regard to Franken, but at least they understood that partisanship can be too high a price to pay,” Rubin said. “And to be politically crass, there is zero downside for Democrats to insist Menendez go. Murphy would appoint a successor, and the deep blue state would surely elect a Democrat to fill the seat in 2024, when Menendez’s term is up anyway.”
In The Guardian, David Sirota said “blame the US supreme court for the Bob Menendez scandal.”
“The allegations against the lawmaker are all too predictable in a country whose judiciary has been effectively telling politicians that corruption is perfectly legal,” Sirota said. “But if the alleged facts in the indictment prove true, the big question is: why would any politician think he could get away with something so brazen? Perhaps it’s because Menendez knows that to secure a conviction, prosecutors will have to prove that it was illegal for him to accept the gifts in exchange for a ‘performance of an official act’. And like every US politician, Menendez almost certainly knows that while that may seem straightforward, the corruption-plagued supreme court has deliberately made it anything but.”
“Less than a decade ago, justices reviewed a case that echoed today’s Menedez scandal. This one involved Bob McDonnell, a former Virginia governor and Republican, whom a federal jury found guilty on 11 counts of conspiracy for accepting lavish gifts from a businessman in exchange for gubernatorial favors. However, supreme court justices unanimously overturned McDonnell’s conviction in 2016 on the grounds that those favors were permissible,” Sirota wrote. The court has “for years been legalizing – and personally engaging in – similar kinds of corruption. At the same time, top Democrats are constantly assuring justices that no matter how repugnant their behavior, there will be no serious challenge to their power.”
In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait compared how Trump and Biden treat “indicted crooks on their own side.”
“Five years ago, the Justice Department indicted two Republican members of Congress, Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, for insider trading. President Trump publicly berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions for putting two Republican-held seats at risk. Trump went on to fire Sessions and eventually pardon his two allies.” In response to the Menendez indictment last week, Biden has said nothing. “No attacks on the attorney general, no complaints about hurting Democrats or insisting The Real Crimes Are On The Other Side. Likewise, Biden has stood aside as the department has brought criminal charges against his son without threatening the AG or interfering with the investigation.
“This may seem totally banal. And indeed, in the pre-Trump era, Biden’s behavior would have been normal and unworthy of comment. Yet it has become an article of faith on the right that Biden has corrupted the Justice Department,” Chait wrote. “The reality staring Republicans in the face is that Biden is at least making a good-faith effort to respect the Justice Department’s independence… Their party’s leader makes no pretense of respecting judicial independence and is instead promising to reduce the Department of Justice into a Putin-esque tool of nakedly biased partisanship. The only possible way Republicans can justify such a grave step is to tell themselves the other side is just as bad.”
What the right is saying.
- The right thinks Menendez is clearly guilty as charged and wonder whether this case will spur additional investigations into corruption in Washington.
- Some say that Republicans who decry Menendez’s abuse of power should apply the same standard to Trump.
- Others argue that the DOJ is using Menendez as low-hanging fruit to distract from a pattern of targeting conservatives with prosecutions.
In The Star-Ledger, conservative columnist Paul Mulshine said Menendez’s “future prospects are grave” and encouraged Republicans to apply the same standard to Trump.
Menendez avoided a conviction in his first corruption case, but “this indictment is different,” Mulshine wrote. The senator has “promised to fight on,” even “playing the race card for good measure” in his response to the indictment. In New Jersey, “all 120 seats in the state Legislature are up in November. The GOP would like nothing more than to run that photo of the happy couple next to a photo of the gold bars the feds confiscated in a raid on their house. Even better would be a Democratic primary fight next year. Kim announced Saturday he will run against Menendez — if Menendez somehow manages to hang on until then.
“But before my Republican friends start gloating, I would remind them that they have the same problem on the national level. Menendez’s protestations of innocence are eerily reminiscent of Donald Trump’s statements about that ‘perfect phone call’ in which he begged the Georgia secretary of state to ‘find’ 11,780 votes for him,” Mulshine said. “I suspect the Democrats will soon solve their Menendez problem. As for how the Republicans get rid of Trump, this should be a lesson, If all the party leaders at once tell him it’s over, then it will be over.”
In RedState, Jeff Charles outlined the “top 5 questions Americans should be asking” about the indictment.
“The state’s indictment points to a complex pattern of corruption that has become all too familiar in American politics. This particular issue raises a series of questions Americans should be asking when it comes to the conduct of our elected officials. For starters, the allegations against Sen. Menendez, his wife, and the three businessmen believed to have been involved in the scandal should make one wonder: Exactly how deep does this corruption run in the Senate or even broader political circles,” Charles wrote.
“The allegations against Menendez span four years. In the time period between 2018 and 2022, there could have been even more people whose hands are dirty. Will the Justice Department unearth even more evidence of corruption involving other prominent Americans, or even other state officials? Even further, if this is discovered, will the Justice Department share the info with the American public? We have already seen that the federal government has a serious allergy to transparency as of late, so it is not unreasonable to be suspicious,” Charles said. “Despite the constant reassurances coming from the state and the elite media, this is yet another reason showing how irredeemably corrupt the federal government has become.”
In The Federalist, Eddie Scarry said “Biden’s corrupt Justice Department gets no credit for indicting Bob Menendez.”
“If any previous attempts to prosecute Menendez were serious, whether it be for overseas sex crimes or blatant corruption at home, he would have served at least one day in prison. But, to date, that has never happened. He remains a sitting senator,” Scarry wrote. “The curious and sudden prosecution of a Democrat senator from a reliably Democrat state, which will fill the seat with another (likely corrupt) Democrat, is a distraction tossed out by Biden’s DOJ. It’s child’s play. Don’t eat what they throw on the floor. See?! No one is above the law! Democrats are held to account, too! The media will dutifully repeat the line, and the faction of the right that prefers publicly whining over actually accomplishing anything will oblige.”
“I’m tempted to believe Menendez exists solely for the Justice Department to claim it’s impartial, but I won’t say that out loud. Either way, his forever-late prosecution is meaningless when the backdrop is the DOJ’s multiple charges against the near-certain Republican presidential nominee (over nothing), plus the attempt to keep him from talking about it while campaigning,” Scarry said. “A Democrat senator who should have faced prison time years ago is now in the crosshairs after allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars, gold bricks, and a sports car in exchange for help with navigating the government. It changes nothing about how deeply rotted the Justice Department has become.”
- He should resign.
- Democrats should call for him to resign.
- Politicians should stop thinking they can get away with this stuff.
This is an easy one.
Senator Bob Menendez should resign.
Unfortunately, by now most Americans are getting pretty well acquainted with the process of reading indictments of important political figures. When Donald Trump was indicted in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, I said the indictment was damning. It was thorough, the evidence was presented clearly, and there was plenty of it. Indictments can sometimes read thinly, be complicated, or leave room to wonder if the person being charged actually committed the crimes they are accused of. Other times, indictments can look very bad and leave little doubt about the accused’s guilt, leaving questions only on how bad the crime is or whether there is a defense angle we can’t totally anticipate.
This looks very bad. In my opinion, it’s much worse than Trump's classified documents indictment — not just because the charges are more serious and abhorrent (bribery and corruption), but because the evidence seems more abundant. There are texts and emails. There are the fingerprints and DNA. The haphazardness of that evidence is simply comical: Gold bars and cash hidden all over the house; Google searches for how much a kilo of gold is worth; and the cliche of an accomplice-wife asking via text or email whether it's okay to text or email one of their accomplices in the alleged scheme.
What Menendez is accused of is exactly the kind of behavior that makes people so distrustful of politicians. He appears to have literally been trading sensitive U.S. intelligence and favors for the government of Egypt in exchange for cash, gold, and lucrative jobs for his then-girlfriend (and now wife), all while heading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It does not get much more infuriating or troubling than that.
It's also worth pointing out the obvious: Democrats should force him out. If they want to claim the moral high ground on issues like corruption and abuse of power, there should be no equivocating. There’s no need to wait for a criminal judgment. What has already been reported is damning enough, and even if Menendez evades a conviction it’s his second time at this rodeo and trust in him has been thoroughly obliterated. Kudos to New Jersey Democrats, who are wholesale calling for him to resign. I also applaud Sen. John Fetterman, who was the first senator to call on him to step down and didn’t mince words about it.
But where is the rest of the Senate? Where is Majority Leader Schumer? Four out of 51 Democratic senators calling for him to resign is hardly inspiring. Everyone else who has spent the last few years of the Trump-era talking about the importance of holding politicians to a high standard, or how we should put faith in the Justice Department, should be speaking up now.
Menendez is innocent until proven guilty, of course. But the question of his future isn’t just a legal one, it’s now a political one, too. Even just out of sheer self-interest, it’d be idiotic to let this fly. Menendez is 69 years old, and has already dragged the party through one corruption trial. He can safely be replaced by a Democrat either via Gov. Murphy or an election. Letting him stick around wouldn’t just be unethical, it’d be stupid politically — he wants to run again in 2024 and is just about the only Democrat I can think of who’d be vulnerable in deep blue New Jersey against a Republican. At the very least, if he refuses to leave, Democrats should allow a field of challengers to beat him at the ballot box.
Your questions, answered.
Q: You say Biden did NOT cause an oil production reduction. He killed the pipeline from Canada through the USA, how did that help us?
— D.D. from Kailua Kona, HI
Tangle: I've got to give you credit, this is a pretty slick question! If we were on a debate stage together, I'd probably have my hands full handling it. Fortunately, I get to write one out. So I’ll answer the question first by countering the premise of it, and then by agreeing with your implication and sharing the argument against both of our positions.
1) "You say Biden did NOT cause an oil production reduction." To be clear, I did not say that. In a recent answer to a reader question asking if Biden's energy policies caused inflation, I said "the United States’ production of crude oil has been steadily increasing since Biden took office, and is near the all-time high we hit right before the start of the pandemic." It may sound like splitting hairs, but those are two very different things. It is possible that some of Biden's policies or actions reduced production growth, but did not reduce total production.
2) "He killed the pipeline from Canada through the USA." It's true that Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline (which I think is what you’re referring to) on his first day in office, but he isn't the only party responsible for its ending. President Obama initially canceled the production of the Keystone XL pipeline during his term. Then, after President Trump re-authorized the pipeline, a federal judge blocked the order, saying that a lack of a "reasoned" decision to reverse a well studied action violated the Administrative Procedure Act. Then, finally, the developer officially canceled the project later in 2021. The Obama administration, legal challenges, a judge's ruling, and even the Trump administration’s legal failure played their part before Biden's decision, which amounted to "the last punt in an unfortunate game of political football," as the American Petroleum Institute put it.
3) "How did that help us?" This is reframing the question, and a non sequitur in context. You first brought up a claim about oil production, then asked how not having this pipeline would "help us." Crude oil coming to the United States, through pipelines or any other means, would not count towards our crude oil production — it would be an import. That's not to make a judgment on the pipeline one way or another, but just to say that the claims "Biden caused a dip in oil production" and "Biden halted a method of oil imports" aren't directly related.
4) "How did that help us?" Here, I will make a judgment one way or another about the pipeline. I never said that I think canceling this pipeline would be a good thing. To the contrary, I am generally pro-pipeline, so you're asking me to argue for a position I don't hold. I think pipelines provide a safer and more efficient way of transporting oil than shipping it overseas through ships or overland through trucks or trains, and importing crude oil through a pipeline from a neighboring ally like Canada is more geopolitically secure than obtaining crude oil from almost anywhere else.
That said (and since you asked), the argument in favor of canceling this pipeline is that Canadian crude from the Alberta tar sands is more carbon-intensive to obtain and refine than most crude oil, and building this pipeline would cause a further investment in using that oil.
Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.
Under the radar.
Israel says its citizens will soon be permitted entry to the U.S. without a visa, though U.S. officials said the announcement was premature. Citizens of 40 countries are permitted to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days of tourism or business without a visa, a status that is a prized possession for many foreigners. However, the U.S. has held off on accepting Israel because Israel doesn't guarantee that all U.S. passport holders are treated reciprocally when traveling the other direction. Israel has separate entry requirements, restrictions, and screening procedures for Palestinian Americans, who often complain of visa denials and harassment when traveling to Israel. In July, Israel began a trial program to demonstrate it's not discriminating against U.S. passport holders of Palestinian origin, but U.S. officials say the trial hasn't gone on long enough. Bloomberg has the story.
- 228. The number of cases reported to the U.S. Sentencing Commission involving bribery in 2022.
- 6.5%. The percent increase in bribery offenses in the U.S. between 2018-2022.
- 77.3%. The percentage of bribery offenders in 2022 who were men.
- 26. The number of bribery offenders in 2022 in the Southern District of New York, the most of any district in the U.S. for that year.
- 80.9%. The percentage of those convicted of bribery offenses who were sentenced to prison in 2022.
- 23 months. The average prison sentence for bribery offenders in 2022.
- 9. The number of federal cases against current or former federal lawmakers from the Republican Party since 2000, according to CNN.
- 8. The number of federal cases against current or former federal lawmakers from the Democratic Party since 2000, according to CNN.
- One year ago today we covered the fraud lawsuit against Trump.
- The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was the explanation of Yom Kippur.
- All of the above: 904 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking who would deserve the most blame in the case of a government shutdown, with 45% saying the House Freedom Caucus. 21% said House Republicans, 9% said Speaker McCarthy, 6% said President Biden, 4% said Senate Democrats, and 2% said House Democrats. 10% said someone else, with most respondents saying it was all of the above. "All of Congress has overspent, they all waste, and they all abuse our taxes and our people's resources," one respondent said.
- Nothing to do with politics: The end of the writers’ strike could mean a reboot of The Office.
- Take the poll. Do you think Senator Menendez should resign? Let us know!
Have a nice day.
Researchers from Western and Brown University have made groundbreaking progress towards treating preeclampsia. Up to eight percent of pregnancies globally are affected by preeclampsia, which is the leading cause of maternal and fetal mortality due to premature delivery. But researchers have identified a toxic protein, cis P-tau, in the blood and placenta of preeclampsia patients. According to the study, cis P-tau is a central circulating driver of preeclampsia — a "troublemaker" that plays a major role in causing the deadly complication. An antibody developed by Zhou in 2012 to target the toxic cis P-tau protein is currently undergoing clinical trials in human patients suffering from TBI and Alzheimer's Disease, and has shown promising preliminary results in treating the brain conditions. "The results have far-reaching implications. This could revolutionize how we understand and treat a range of conditions, from pregnancy-related issues to brain disorders," Lu said. Science Daily has the story.
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