Gerald Krovatin is a criminal defense attorney at Krovatin Klingeman LLC in Newark.
In the midst of the recent resignations of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Post Opinions writer James Downie suggested that Democrats should use this moment to “ditch” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) because of accusations of bribery and corruption against the senator. The argument is appalling.
Due process is the cornerstone of our justice system. Anyone who would call for Menendez to resign following the outcome of his case — which ended in a mistrial in court last month and is now under review by the Senate Ethics Committee — doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. I have been a longtime supporter of Menendez, who has maintained his innocence from the start, weathering for five years the cloud of an investigation riddled with leaks and impropriety and a corruption trial, all while insisting that once he had his day in court, he would be vindicated. Although Menendez was not acquitted, he certainly came close.
In today’s political climate, any public official accused of corruption faces a daunting task — yet at least 10 of 12 jurors wanted to acquit the senator. Why? Because the government’s case against him was paper-thin. This is not a guess or a hypothetical; it is what jurors have said since the trial concluded.
The senator did not get off, as many commentators have suggested, because of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn corruption charges against former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell . The facts of the Menendez case are largely uncontested. The senator rode on his friend’s plane, he stayed at his friend’s house, and they often exchanged gifts. But the jury overwhelmingly rejected the prosecution’s assertion that the senator’s actions on behalf of his friend of 25 years were the product of a corrupt agreement. Instead, they saw a senator acting not out of corruption but on policy concerns such as improving port-security standards, examining the waste of expensive medicine by the Department of Health and Human Services, and ensuring fair administration of our immigration laws.
An Ethics Committee inquiry alone is not enough to warrant a duly elected senator’s resignation. Downie argued that an Ethics Committee inquiry would not uncover anything new and that the revelations uncovered during the trial are reason enough for Democrats to abandon the senator. That is also false.
The Ethics Committee will have access to the full story — not just the cherry-picked evidence put forward by the government. Throughout Menendez’s trial, prosecutors scored major wins from a judge who prohibited the defense from calling key witnesses, denied the admission of dozens of documents into evidence and adopted the government’s preferred jury instructions.
Yet despite all the cards in the government’s favor, 11 of 13 deliberating jurors, (including a juror dismissed halfway through the trial), failed to see any form of corrupt intent.
New Jersey voters will get a chance to weigh Menendez’s decades of service. It is a decision for voters in an election — not the misinformed drumbeat of those who fail to grasp the case’s facts or the significance of the jury’s opinion. After coming this far, Democrats shouldn’t abandon our system of due process. Otherwise, the presumption of innocence so central to our Constitution becomes meaningless.