In his support for Israel and criticism of nuclear negotiations with Iran, Robert Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, has been fearless and vocal. In his 2012 re-election campaign, he was the top recipient of donations from pro-Israel individuals and groups who gave him a total of $346,470, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
So for many Jews, Menendez’s indictment last week by the Justice Department on federal corruption charges raises the question of how to respond to a friend in trouble.
The best way would be to let the legal process unfold. The government’s bribery charges against Menendez, filed after a two-year investigation, paint the picture of a politician ready to do multimillion-dollar favors for friend and political supporter Salomon E. Melgen. But with the senator’s attorney, Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell, suggesting that Justice Department prosecutors “often get it wrong,” it appears that Menendez is preparing for a long legal battle.
Menendez has stepped down from his ranking position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was from that seat that he wrote several bills to toughen economic sanctions against Iran. He was replaced by Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. Some commentators have noted that the timing of the indictment is suspicious. Menendez in January said the administration’s defense of its Iran stance “sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” The most vocal Democratic critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the Iran talks was then taken out of the game on the very day an agreement with Iran was reached.
Whether by intent or coincidence, the sidelining of Menendez is unlikely to weaken those who are most outspoken against an Iran agreement and who insist upon a congressional vetting of any deal.
Thus, while it appears that the Iran issue will remain a hot button many politicians want to push, it no longer appears that the most strident criticism will continue to come from the Democratic side of the aisle.