Below is my column on the Menendez indictment and the curious “Mattress Defense” put forward by the senator. For most people, it seems like a defense that is unlikely to win over a jury, but that may not be the purpose. Menendez may be trying to replicate his “win” six years ago by securing not an acquittal but a hung jury.
Here is the column:
In his defense of bribery allegations, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) argues he’s just your tio loco, who doesn’t trust banks and prefers a Serta Perfect to Morgan Stanley to hold his money.
Call it the “mattress defense.”
Wads of cash and gold bars were found in the Menendez home.
But the senator insisted that he was just being an “old-fashioned” Cuban who feared that the government could confiscate his property at any moment.
It’s a curious defense.
He is claiming that he has been squirreling away money for years as a hedge against an authoritarian crackdown — of which his Democratic Party is in control, and he is one of its most senior senators.
So he’s worried President Biden is going to grab his gold bars?
It is hardly a roaring endorsement of our system.
Menendez declared: “For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies, and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba. Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account.”
Menendez was born in the United States to Cuban immigrants who fled the island in 1953.
What is striking is that Menendez locked in this defense within a week of the indictment.
There is no walking back, since this press conference can be admitted as evidence at trial.
It is an explanation that is highly unlikely to convince a jury as a whole.
There is evidence, from fingerprints to DNA, connecting the senator and his wife, Nadine, to money handed over by co-conspirators.
There are also damning emails and messages.
In one such message in March 2020, Nadine allegedly told an Egyptian official, “Anytime you need anything you have my number and we will make everything happen.”
That is what is so telling about Menendez’s press conference.
It is a defense that seems crafted not for acquittal but a hung jury.
Six years ago, he was saved by a hung jury in a prior bribery trial.
This could be a pitch for the same result.
He just needs to connect with one juror to survive to grift another day.
It may be working. In the chatter that followed in New Jersey, some quickly affirmed that this was a “Cuban thing.”
One voter in Union City told CBS News, “The part about the money I do understand because as a Cuban we are used to putting … we don’t trust the government. We came from a very dark place in Cuba under a terrible regime.”
Of course, no one knows the “dark places” as much as Bob Menendez.
Meanwhile, the suggestion of a resignation is unlikely to appeal to Menendez.
Why give up the leverage of a seat in a closely divided Senate?
With various Democrats calling for his resignation, Menendez is hardly being subtle about the threat he could pose.
He could run as a third-party candidate and potentially lose a seat that the Democrats have long treated as a guaranteed win.
In the meantime, he continues to draw a large salary and can use Senate business to argue for delays and accommodations in the court proceedings.
In his press conference, Menendez promised to stay his course “despite the naysayers and everyone who has underestimated me.”
It is certainly never good to underestimate Bob Menendez when it comes to the “dark places” of American politics.