Robert Menendez Broke the ‘Goldilocks Rule’ of Corruption

Below is my column in The Hill on the indictment of Senator Robert Menendez for bribery, again. As predicted in this column, his colleagues are now expressing disgust at his corruption. However, make no mistake about it, Menendez is not being abandoned due to his corrupt inclination but his conspicuous consumption.

Here is the column:

The massive indictment of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his wife has shaken Washington.

As Senate Foreign Relations chairman, Menendez is one of the most powerful Democratic members of Congress, and someone who has long been a kingmaker in the party. He has also long been accused of open and insatiable corruption.

What made Menendez a standout in Washington was not his corrupt inclinations, but his utter audacity in following them. I was able to witness that signature conduct personally on the floor of the Senate.

In 2010, I defended a federal judge, Thomas Porteous, in his impeachment trial, against charges that he had taken gifts and misused his office for personal gain. The curious thing about Senate trials is that you have a jury composed of people you could strike for cause in a real court. Menendez was among those sitting in judgment of Porteous, but he wasn’t just another face in the Senate crowd — he stood out. It was like arguing a piracy case with Captain Jack Sparrow sitting on the jury.

Menendez himself would later go on trial in 2017 in a major bribery and fraud case involving luxury gifts allegedly exchanged for official favors. Most of us expected the worst when, during jury deliberations, one juror asked the court, “What is a senator?” Menendez dodged the bullet. The jury hung and the Justice Department dropped all charges.

Now Menendez has been slapped with a massive new bribery indictment. The facts are all too familiar, with a long list of lavish gifts allegedly made in exchange for favors.

The indictment details gold bars, hundreds of thousands of dollars, furnishings and other gifts.  His wife was allegedly actively involved in this corruption conspiracy and is also facing criminal charges.

During the Porteous trial, I noted that, at the time of the underlying acts, the senators themselves were accepting free lunches. It was not until later that the rules changed on such gifts. Menendez now stands accused of accepting a host of gifts at that time, including an $8,000 free flight in October 2010, in addition to luxury trips to Paris and a Caribbean villa.

Yet Menendez still demanded the conviction of Porteous, even though the judge was never charged with bribery, and free lunches and the other gifts would not be enough to even register with Menendez.

The question is whether this level of corruption is now enough for Democrats. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) recently suggested a type of Goldilocks rule for corruption. He warned that people in Washington had better be careful if they want to crack down on the Biden family’s influence-peddling.

“If that’s the new criteria, there are a lot of folks in a lot of industries — not just in politics — where people have family members and relationships and they’re trying to parlay and get a little influence and benefit in that respect. That’s hardly unique.”

It would appear that the question is not corruption, but when a little corruption is “just right.”

If these allegations against Menendez are proven, then he violated Washington’s Goldilocks rule. It would mean that Menendez pursued gifts with a reckless abandon, endangering others whose corruption was more circumspect.

Consider the timeline: It would mean that during the Porteous trial, Menendez was allegedly accepting gifts while condemning and removing from office a judge accused of receiving gifts.

Later, after the jury hung in his first corruption trial, Menendez (according to the Justice Department) almost immediately started taking gifts from new sources.

In a town known for a certain finesse in influence peddling, Menendez broke with industry custom by allegedly accepting direct items like gold and a car. This is classic bribery stuff. There was no labyrinth of shell companies and accounts — just crude old-school corruption, with cash stuffed in clothing and gold bars squirreled away for a rainy day.

Where corrupt figures often refer to getting their beaks wet, Menendez allegedly took a headlong plunge into this pool of corruption. This city has not seen such low-grade alleged bribery since former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) was found with $90,000 wrapped like a po boy in his freezer.

Like Jefferson, Menendez will need to be isolated as a pariah for his conspicuous consumption. Yet the public is still being played for chumps. This entire city floats on a sea of corruption as family members and associates sell influence and access to high-ranking officials. Menendez is notorious only for the size of his appetite and the extent of his audacity.

Newsom’s Goldilocks rule for graft is certainly compelling for many in this city. For most of us, it is the very source of the problem as politicians seek to get corruption “just right.”

So get ready for politicians to suddenly declare themselves “shocked, shocked” by the allegations against Menendez. These are the same people who made Menendez the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, twice. They gave him the power of leverage with countries where bribery is an accepted practice. It was like making a known arsonist the CEO of the International Paper Corporation.

In the end, the problem is not Menendez. It is the array of other politicians who enabled him while dismissing his reputation for corruption. To use Newsom’s words, Menendez is “hardly unique” for cashing in on his position. That is precisely the problem.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.

295 thoughts on “Robert Menendez Broke the ‘Goldilocks Rule’ of Corruption”

  1. Apparently, the moral of the story is this:

    The FBI/DOJ have the wits and resources to handle a bribery case that involves gold, cash in pockets, a Mercedes, a senator, and Egypt.

    But they do not have the wits and resources to handle a bribery case that involves diamonds, cash to children/grandchildren, a Porsche, a vice president/president, and China, Ukraine, et al.

  2. He is just being used as a sacrificial lamb…Trying to take the limelight off the Bidens. I loved when he pulled the race card.. Haven’t seen that one used in a while.

    1. No, this is NOT a demoncrat problem, remember and repeat after the master, “EVERYONE DOES IT”, thus, mendendez is getting singled out and the bidens are no more guilty than all the republicans – didn’t you listen to jhonny boy ?

  3. Bulls “service” Cows as you might recall……pretty much the same as do politicians do their Constituents who do not feed the machine with gold bars and expensive cars.

    Remember folks….honest hard working tax paying citizens are merely the bulge in the Python’s stomach.

  4. I guess the wanted a new replacement. Sen Menendez was indicted last time on his stance on Iran against Obama…I guess he was against giving the terrorists in Iran $6 Billion Dollar…guess what…Indicted AGAIN!
    Menendez was ARRESTED because he went against Democrats Destruction of America!

  5. The problem isn’t Menendez, Biden, etc…the PROBLEM is the DOJ, IRS, FBI, CIA, etc are now 100% corrupt for Democrats!

    1. The problem is the Johns, the whores, and the legal infrastructure.

      You can’t have a market with only buyers or only sellers, and you cannot enforce any fair market without an honest legal network. You need all three, but you are correct, imo, that you cannot reform without the latter.

  6. The Problem is CENTRALIZED power!
    H.G. Wells excellent book “Outline of History” written in the 1930’s and update post WWII, documents the downfall of empire after empire once centralized power is gained by the Machiavellians.
    He rightly points to the US’s rocket to world power…through its decentralized power.

    In the last 20+ years….DC has gone from 30% Debt to GDP to %130 Debt to GDP…with DC controlling the winners. Don’t forget the Federal Reserve printed $9 Trillion to Give to the winners. We have to take away that centralized power! The US is in free fall.

    TAKE AWAY Democrat Power
    -Cut 50% of Fed gov
    -Move 75% of DC to Heartland
    -Remove entire leadership of DOJ, IRS, DHS and FBI
    -5% tax Gross wall street trans & money goes offshore
    -Tax all non-profits anyone gets $100k: colleges, hospitals, Clinton Fund, etc
    -Ban fed aid/loans cities, states & college, make them fund themselves
    -Remove tax credits renewables, affordable housing, etc
    -Jail Russian Hoax, COVID liars & Biden protectors, etc
    -Ban public union/company/Dark Money $ politics, only voters can fund politics
    -voting 1 day, in person, with ID, I don’t care if you vote, I care if you cheat
    – 12 year limit on federal office….judge, president, senate, congress
    – Roundup all illegals to raise wages and give Americans Jobs
    – END all bonuses financial world till every dime of FED money is paid off

    1. First item on your list is paramount, this will never happen unless your voting comment takes hold. In my opinion nothing else matters unless we ensure elections are legitimate which means same day voting with paper ballots and ID’s meaning only US citizens. I’m an Election Day volunteer officer. Nothing like meeting a voter face to face and handing them a paper ballot. That is true democracy.

  7. So obviously the timing is everything- you mean Bob Menendez is CORRUPT? I’M SHOCKED! (Based on experience the bulk of congress is “George Santos’s” that haven’t been caught/exposed!) – I’m a VERY well-known pre-Snowden NAT SEC Threat Analyst… the 2 US senators that actually investigated/responded to my warnings MN(D) Mark Dayton (2006) & Al “But I can assure you this isn’t about spying on American citizens” Franken (2017) both FORCED to vacate their seats! – about a Weaponized Intelligence Community / MILITARY INDUSTRIAL SURVEILLANCE COMPLEX or as FBI Dir Chris Wray just confessed / bragged they use “Business Community Partners – All the time” 1981 XO 12333 work-around. The politicians/DOJ-FBI that ignored my warnings / attacked ME… they are all good and got promotions. Take for example ex MN FBI Special Agent In Charge Jill “J-6” Sanborn that got promoted to FBI DD Counterterror and when she failed to answer congress’s questions into FBI “CI’S” in January 6- she ended up SR Exec ROKU MEDIA! Sr. FBI Investigative Supervisor Dick Ostrom that promised to open an immediate investigation- instead suddenly retired ends up CEO of Waypoint. Remember when Newt Gingrich was caught in a FBI Wiretap with his new wife “business dealings” with the Middle East International Arms “Dealer Merchant of Death” – DOJ “dropped” that “investigation” as well… Mark J. Novitsky Ephesians 6:12

  8. As JT says, it is rampant in the District. Our powerful Republicans (McConnell comes to mind) have hugely benefitted from life in DC. It is not one sided, but it IS unbalanced in the pursuit of justice. It is completely corrupt across the board—the politicians, the K Street bribers, the staffs…..all of them.

    1. You forgot about national corruption security, national security complex for short. That includes everything you mentioned 24/7/365.

  9. This is small stuff the voters can comprehend.

    The normal huge grift, is that which cannot be spoken.

    That is the reason one of few bipartisan agreements reached in DC is Trump must not go back to DC .The President is privy to the industrial grift that defines DC. DC is terrified Trump will pull back the curtain and expose the real purpose of DC is enrich the right people.

  10. Overlooked here and elsewhere is that the search of the Menendez home where the money and gold bars were found occurred more than a year ago, in Jun 2022. That means that the FBI and Merrick Garland & Co. have been sitting on this for more than a year while allowing Menendez to continue as Chairman of a powerful senate committee. Reading the indictment makes it clear that, besides some human sources helping to give context to the matter, the FBI was tapping phones, Internet traffic, credit card accounts, etc. for quite some time. Is it ethical if you know someone is committing crimes to ignore that fact simply to collect additional evidence? When is enough enough?

    1. The DOJ needed a different scandal to deflect from the Biden bribery scandal. Perfect timing is what it is all about.

      1. Sen Menendez is ON RECORD against cash payments to Iran…probably just a coincidence BOTH times he was indicted….Democrats GAVE billions to Iran. Don’t you hate “coincidences”?

    2. The fact they sat on this for over a year should be shouted from the rooftops! Our federal government is a cesspool of corruption. 7 trillion dollars of spending when in 2018 it was slightly over 4 trillion should be alarming. A real objective watchdog press should be all over this, yet not a peep but actually a defense of this corruption. Voters wake up before it’s too late

    3. Interesting observations. Having waited this long, what led DOJ to pull the trigger now? And with the knowledge they had, why did he remain Chairman?

      Too bad Joe Biden wasn’t investigated with the same vigour. Treasury, the FBI, DOJ and likely the CIA all had incriminating evidence against Biden during Trump’s presidency but did nothing. And Trump was impeached when he asked Zelensky to investigate. None of the evidence against Biden was revealed during that process.

  11. As usual. I totally get it.
    When a demoncrat is caught dead to rights, it’s not he whom is corrupt – it is EVERYONE, REPUBLICANS INCLUDED ESPECIALLY.
    Anyone who calls Turley republican or right wing is a nut case.

    1. Our resident trolls will cry the good professor never mentions Trump corruption or Republican corruption.
      The good professor is pointing out the corruption of HIS own party. He wants everyone to see what is going on in the party that once represented things like free speech and anti-corruption.
      Rightfully so. MSM is not going to do it.

  12. A clumsy strategic move by the DOJ. Menendez’ level of corruption is matched only by his stupidity and incompetence. And the clumps of cash and couple of gold “bars” found by the corrupt keystone cops of the DOJ are surely just the tip of the iceberg. Will anyone ask about the dates the searches were made and the pictures taken, and why the DOJ sat on this so long? How many attorneys general knew about this obvious evidence? If this orchestrated drama was meant to demonstrate impartiality, it will eventually be found to prove exactly the opposite.

    1. come on…Biden level is open and in your face. Tony B told us about it POINT BLACK almost 4 years ago. I remember when Ashley and Hunter rode with VP joe to China…and I thought it odd that his ADULT child in their 40’s and 50’s traveled with him
      Media…DOJ…no questions? It didn’t pass the smell test then.
      Even I know the Bidens go unlimited Credit Cards from the Chinese….but the ALL powerful NSA…new nothing? LOL

  13. Between the government which does evil and the people who accept it – there is a certain shameful solidarity.

    1. No, no, it’s not demoncrats whom are corrupt, it’s “all of them”, meaning REPUBLICANS, thus this recent demoncrat caught with his and his wife’s hands in the gold bar jar is just showing us REPUBLICANS ARE CORRUPT TOO !

  14. I always laugh when some politician retires from politics a multimillionaire when he started out in politics in the middle class. His colleagues always praise him “for his years of service to his constituents.” Meanwhile it’s obvious that the only person he ever served was himself.

  15. Exactly right! His corruption was just too obvious, and it draws too much attention to all the less obvious corruption so rampant among public officials. The only remedy is to reduce drastically the power in their hands, but I don’t see that happening.

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