After Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted on Friday, there was a brief pause among his Democratic colleagues. Yes, the New Jersey lawmaker was facing serious criminal allegations, and yes, the federal indictment raised the prospect of cartoonish corruption, but party officials, at least during the first few hours, were prepared to wait for his response.
Soon after, Menendez suggested that racism had something to do with the prosecution — at which point a variety of unpersuaded Democratic officials, including his home state’s governor, called for his resignation.
It was against that backdrop that the senator offered his first public comments about the scandal at an event on Monday morning. NBC News reported:
Menendez, who indicated he would not resign ... offered an explanation for the $480,000 in cash prosecutors said was found in his New Jersey home, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe.” Menendez maintained that the money was his and that it had been earned legitimately.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in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,” he said. “These were moneys drawn from my personal savings account based on the income I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.”
It was a difficult defense to accept at face value. Menendez kept $480,000 in cash, just in case of an emergency? The New Jersey senator is a longtime member of the Senate Banking Committee, which means he knows full well that such a sum would be safer in a bank than stuffed into pockets of his clothing.
He also didn’t explain the gold bars the FBI found in his house.
As was the case on Friday, the more Democrats had an opportunity to hear Menendez’s side of the story, the more support he lost. NBC News report added:
Two Democratic senators called for Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., to resign Monday, joining a growing chorus of lawmakers urging him to step down amid federal corruption charges. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio — chairman of the Banking Committee, where Menendez chairs a subcommittee — and Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont called on Menendez to leave Congress. Over the weekend, Sen. John Fetterman of neighboring Pennsylvania became the first Senate Democrat to say he should resign.
A couple of hours after Welch called for Menendez to step down, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi sat down with MSNBC’s Jen Psaki and added her voice to the growing chorus.
“It’d probably be a good idea if he did resign,” the California Democrat said, describing the charges as “formidable.”
[Update: Shortly after I published this, several more Democratic senators — Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jon Tester of Montana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Ed Markey of Massachusetts — also said Menendez should step down. Politico reported that they were soon joined by Jacky Rosen of Nevada and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.]
In the meantime, the public continues to watch a case study in partisan asymmetry unfold in real time. To reiterate a point we kicked around on Monday, after Donald Trump was indicted, the former president and his party launched a ridiculous broadside against federal law enforcement, peddling a series of outlandish claims.
The cases were “election interference.” Federal prosecutors should be “defunded.” Maybe evidence was “planted.” The Justice Department has been “weaponized.” There must be an investigation into the investigation. Something, something, George Soros and Hunter Biden.
How many Democratic officials have peddled similar talking points in the wake of an indictment against a sitting Democratic senator? As best as I can tell, none.