So it seems that yet another politician is being brought up on charges of corruption. No surprise to anyone and the fact that the politician in question is none other than Senator Robert Menendez (D – NJ), whose 40 year political career has been littered with allegations of corruption, is likely no surprise either, especially to the constituents of his state. Politics is a dirty game, to say the least, and there are rules to the game. Menendez better than most knows that when playing the political game, you make friends, you make enemies, and sometimes you pay.
Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a controversial trip to the United States to make a speech before Congress, furthering the rift between Republicans (and some Democrats) and the Obama administration. But some believe that Menendez’s legal troubles, coming right on the heels of the Netanyahu speech, are a result of his adamant support of Israel and often critical attitude toward the White House.
Robert “Bob” Menendez is the senior United States Senator from New Jersey. He was first appointed to the Senate in January 2006, and was elected Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in January 2013. As stated above, his career has had its fair share of controversy. The accusations have ranged from soliciting prostitutes to inappropriately using his political influence, including being under investigation by the FBI for allegedly leveraging that same influence on behalf of two accused criminals from Ecuador. The alleged influence peddling was in exchange for campaign contributions. Again, some folks are not surprised by the accusations, but others are also not surprised by the possibility that the latest charges by the Justice Department are in retaliation for Menendez’s backing of Netanyahu and Israel.
In March 2013, while giving his first major speech as Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Menendez vowed that “there will never be any daylight between the United States and Israel on my watch,” and that he would vigorously defend Israel and her interests using the powers of his office. He is obviously not afraid to take on members of his own party – including the President of the United States. Just hours after the President’s State of the Union address, Menendez is said to have told two top Obama administration officials that what they’re saying, “sounds like talking points straight from Tehran.”
During the year prior, Menendez fumed at the negative treatment that he and Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk received for the bill that they co-sponsored, which called for tougher sanctions against Iran. In his State of the Union speech, Obama vowed that he would veto any new sanctions, but with Republicans holding the Senate majority, the initiative has found new steam.
While not proof positive that the timing of the charges and Netanyahu’s speech are linked, the Obama administration has been linked (allegedly) to what many believe are retaliation acts against political foes. In 2013, stories broke that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had targeted political groups applying for tax-exempt status for intensive scrutiny based on their names or political themes, such as “Tea Party.” Eric Holder and the Justice Department launched an investigation, but the damage had already been done, and the outrage it fueled sparked calls for the resignation of IRS heads (Acting Commissioner of the IRS, Steven T. Miller, resigned in May 2013, among others) and even the impeachment of President Obama. The White House has denied any knowledge of the events, but the administration will be forever linked with acts of political revenge.
So coincidence or not, what are some of the impacts of the speech, political support for Israel or other causes that the White House might not agree with? Well for one thing, it should be noted that not everyone feels that the two are in any way related, but that Menendez’s politically corrupt chickens had come home to roost, and that justice was finally being served. Whatever the case, the timing of the charges against Menendez on the heels of the Netanyahu visit is unlikely to deter Republicans or other politicians to voice their opinions or act to push forward legislation that they advocate. In fact, even as elections are being held in Israel that will likely result in Netanyahu’s ouster, some are saying that the Israeli Prime Minister has unintentionally become the de facto leader of the political opposition to the Obama administration. The speech seems to have shored up both camps (those pushing for stronger action against Iran and those who are for more talks and a reexamination of the status quo) and their political convictions.
But standing by on the sidelines, carefully watching the whole drama play out are those who should be the focus of the game. The Iranian regime has, with the exception of making the statement that Netanyahu’s speech would have no impact on any future talks, been largely silent. While likely not caring much about a senator from New Jersey, the Iranian leadership is being smart in letting this distraction to any political moves, be it talks, sanctions or even the military force that Netanyahu and others are calling for, by them what they need most.
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