A collage of a person and a gold bar

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[Source: true-republican.com]

Raises Questions Also As to Why the Democratic Party Would Choose Someone So Far to the Right to Become the Party’s Effective Foreign Policy Spokesperson

The jaw-dropping three-count federal indictment against Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ), his wife, and three businessmen with close ties to the authoritarian Egyptian regime is truly jaw dropping. The gold bars, the $480,000 in cash found hidden in his home, the additional $70,000 in a safe deposit box, a Mercedes convertible in the garage, and mortgage payments on a house would appear to make even the obligatory presumption of innocence a real stretch.

Federal prosecutors charge that the influential senator agreed to use “his influence and power and breach his official duty in ways that benefited the Government of Egypt.”

While there is certainly a high level of legal corruption in the U.S. political system, especially since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, Menendez is being charged with old school bribery. Though stepping down, as required, from the chairmanship of his committee in the event of felony indictments, Menendez is insisting he is innocent, is refusing to resign, and says he is still running for re-election next year. He claims the cash found in his home was legally acquired and kept at home for “emergencies” (to which his fellow Democratic Senator John Fetterman noted, “We have an extra flashlight for our home emergencies.”)

Two other co-defendants in the case — Jose Uribe and Wael Hana — bought the Mercedes-Benz for Menendez’s wife in return for the Senator interfering in a state criminal prosecution of a Uribe
Mercedes-Benz that Menendez’s wife was given as part of the bribery. [Source: nbcnews.com]

In contrast to Republicans’ accusations of the alleged “weaponization” of the Justice Department for pursuing corruption charges against Trump and other Republican lawmakers, Democrats have not rushed to Menendez’s defense, nor have they accused federal prosecutors of political persecution. New Jersey’s governor and other leading Democratic officials in Menendez’s home state have called for his resignation, having been more aware than most of his long history of sketchy involvement with wealthy supporters, including another federal indictment for bribery in 2015 which ended in a mistrial following a hung jury.

31 of the 51 Democratic Senators, including the other New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, have now called for Menendez’s resignation.

A Biden administration spokesperson, however, refused to comment, saying that it is an “ongoing legal matter.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also refused to support calls that Menendez resign, saying that Menendez is “a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey.”

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Chuck Schumer has stood by Menendez. [Source: nydailynews.com]

The alleged conspiracy appears to have been on behalf of the brutal military dictatorship in Egypt led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which successive Congresses and administrations have insisted on supporting with more than $1.3 billion in military aid annually, despite their massacre of thousands of protesters, their imprisonment of 60,000 dissidents, their widespread use of torture, and rampant corruption. Egypt is the third-highest recipient of U.S. military aid, with only Ukraine and Israel receiving more taxpayer dollars.

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General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with Donald Trump in the White House solidifying the close ties between the two countries. [jpost.com]

Under Reagan, U.S. military support for dictatorial regimes in Latin America and elsewhere were subjected to popular outcry and congressional efforts to restrict such security assistance and arms transfers; Biden’s support for Egypt has been met by only occasional and ultimately futile objections from a handful of progressive Democrats.

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Joe Biden and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 11, 2022. Apart from a tiny number of progressive Democrats, few have voiced objections to U.S. support for el-Sisi despite his abhorrent human rights record and overt dictatorial qualities. [Source: todayonline.com]

The indictment against Menendez includes an episode where, in apparent return for cash, he worked to restore a $300 million segment of the military assistance program that had been temporarily suspended by the State Department on human rights grounds. The bribes also appear to have played a role in his push to remove holds on foreign military financing and exports of military equipment to Egypt.

Earlier in his tenure as committee chair, Menendez had criticized el-Sisi’s human rights record on occasion but notably stopped doing so around the time he apparently began accepting bribes. Also noteworthy is that House versions of foreign aid bills which had passed the lower chamber in recent years with human rights provisions were stripped from the Senate versions, apparently at Menendez’s urging, and were absent from the final versions agreed to in conference.

Picture of jacket bearing Menendez’s name with money on top of it
Bribe money found in one of Menendez’s jackets during a police raid on his home. [Source: gazettengr.com]

It is not just the human rights community and clean government supporters who are outraged by the revelations from the indictments, but the intelligence community as well. It appears Menendez, in return for the bribes, provided Egyptian officials with non-public information regarding details of U.S. Embassy employees in Cairo, including Egyptian citizens. Given the fact that most major U.S. embassies overseas have at least a couple of CIA and other intelligence agents using diplomatic cover, as well as locals serving as informants, such information could be used by the Egyptians to research the backgrounds of these employees for possible intelligence connections.

What seems to be missing from the public announcements about the investigation is the role of Egyptian government officials. A foreign government recruiting a powerful and influential senator to advance its interests might normally lead to a diplomatic crisis, but—as with other crimes by the Egyptian dictatorship—the Biden administration is keeping pretty quiet.

Attempting to turn the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee into an asset would appear to be an extremely provocative action of a foreign government by any measure. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has thus far rejected calls to delay the forthcoming release of $235 million in military equipment until the role of the Egyptian regime is investigated.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo on May 26, 2021. [Source: english.ahram.org]

However, in a surprise move, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who has replaced the indicted Menendez as head of the Foreign Relations Committee, has announced he will block Biden’s proposed foreign military financing to Egypt until the country takes meaningful steps to improve human rights conditions in that country. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has announced his opposition to the release of the military aid as well.

Menendez’s hawkish record

Menendez’s corruption aside, he should never have been appointed to chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the first place. Indeed, he is one of the two or three most hawkish Democrats in the Senate. Menendez has opposed the Iran nuclear agreement, repeatedly attacked the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, supported unconditional military aid to governments that have used the weapons in the commission of war crimes, and taken other positions far closer to those of Republicans than rank-and-file Democrat

This is particularly significant given that, despite some relatively progressive domestic policy initiatives taken by President Joe Biden, the administration’s foreign policy has been extremely problematic.

Biden has often sided with the more militaristic wing of the party, including his important support for the invasion of Iraq, his defense of Israel’s right-wing government, his support for the Israeli and Moroccan occupations, his advocacy of high military spending, his support for allied dictatorships, and his appointment of Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Victoria Nuland, and other hardliners to key foreign policy positions. 

Indeed, for most of the past 60 years, Democratic chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—such as J. William Fulbright, Frank Church and Claiborne Pell—have tended to be more critical of U.S. military intervention and backing of repressive allies than their contemporaneous presidents of either party.

J. William Fulbright, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who, unlike Menendez, was critical of many military interventions and hosted critical hearings on Vietnam. [Source: shutterstock.com]

Under Biden, however, Senate Democrats have chosen one of their most hawkish members to serve in the party’s most visible foreign policy position. Bottom of Form

Roger Noriega, a right-wing policy analyst who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush, expressed his enthusiasm about Menendez becoming chair, noting “You can’t work around the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he’s willing to dig in his heels on important issues.”

Roger Noriega [Source: lapatilla.com]

Noriega was particularly pleased with Menendez’s strong opposition to Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, which the senator refers to as a “totalitarian regime,” even while supporting unconditional U.S. military aid to the far more repressive el-Sisi regime in Egypt and other allied dictatorships. In 2018, Menendez was one of only ten Democratic senators to vote to table a bipartisan resolution to end U.S. support for the devastating Saudi war on Yemen.

Menendez had previously chaired the committee for two years during the Obama administration, frequently joining Republicans in criticizing the president’s more moderate initiatives. When he served in the House of Representatives, Menendez was known for periodically criticizing President George W. Bush from the right. 

For example, in 2003, Menendez sent a letter to Bush saying that he was “deeply dismayed” by Bush’s criticism of Israel’s assassination policy targeting Palestinians, saying that the killing of a Hamas leader “was clearly justified as an application of Israel’s right to self-defense” and that Israel’s assassination policy—which also included non-violent opponents of the Israeli occupation—must have “the full support of the United States.” 

He has also criticized Trump from the right, decrying his efforts to withdraw some U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan and claiming that doing so would somehow be a threat to U.S. national security.

Regarding Iran, Senator Menendez tried to undermine the negotiations that led to the nuclear agreement and exaggerated Iran’s nuclear capability. He was one of only two Democratic senators who joined Republicans in opposing Obama’s nuclear deal. When the Republican leadership invited right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress to denounce Obama and the Iran agreement, leading to a boycott by a number of Democratic members of Congress, Menendez joined Netanyahu’s official escort committee to the House floor.

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Robert Menendez and Benjamin Netanyahu. [Source: axios.com]

Menendez has supported Republican efforts that would refuse payments of hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the United Nations unless member states elect the United States to certain UN committees. He has stridently opposed U.S. participation in the UN World Conference Against Racism, joining right-wing Republicans in falsely accusing it of being anti-Semitic and anti-American. He signed a letter criticizing the United Nations and its agencies for calling on the Netanyahu government to end its violations of international humanitarian law and commended former Trump UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s attacks on the world body.

And he voted for a resolution attacking the International Court of Justice for ruling that, while Israel could construct a separation barrier along its internationally recognized border, it could not legally build such a structure deep inside occupied Palestinian territory to defend illegal settlements, falsely claiming the near-unanimous decision rejected Israel’s right to self-defense.

Particularly troubling is Menendez’s disregard for civilian lives in wartime. In 2014, Menendez co-sponsored a bill defending Israel’s war on Gaza, which killed close to 1,500 civilians, including more than 500 children. His resolution insisted that the deaths were a result of Hamas using “human shields,” despite reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other groups that, while critical of Hamas in a number of other areas, found no evidence to support that they engaged in that particular war crime. 

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Menendez supported Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2014 that left Gaza in ruins and killed some 1,500 civilians. [Source: usatoday.com]

Menendez also supported a 2009 resolution supporting Israel’s similarly devastating assault on that crowded Palestinian enclave using language that effectively asserted that having members of a designated terrorist group being treated in hospitals, attending houses of worship, or living in civilian neighborhoods made all of these places legitimate targets. Menendez further co-sponsored a resolution condemning a well-documented United Nations report put together by a commission composed of reputable international jurists (chaired by a prominent Zionist) criticizing both Hamas and Israel for attacks on civilians, falsely accusing commission members of having an anti-Israel bias and opposing Israel’s right to self-defense.

Menendez even signed a letter defending Israel’s 2010 attack on an unarmed humanitarian aid flotilla in which ten passengers and crew were killed and opposing any action by the United Nations. According to autopsy reports and a UN investigation, five of the dead were not resisting the Israeli raid, one of whom was a 19-year–old U.S. citizen who was simply filming the incident before being shot at point-blank range in the back of the head.

Indeed, it is on the issue of Israel and Palestine where Menendez’s extreme right-wing views are most apparent. While claiming to support a two-state solution, he opposes any efforts to pressure Israel to end the occupation to make that possible. Indeed, he has steadfastly opposed any kind of Palestinian statehood not supported by Netanyahu, who has long made clear his opposition to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. 

Menendez has attacked the European Union for its opposition to labeling products in the occupied West Bank as “Made in Israel,” accusing the EU of implementing “restrictive and illegal trade measures.” He was one of only two Democratic senators to vote in favor of Trump’s pick of David Friedman—an opponent of Palestinian statehood who promoted Israeli colonization of the West Bank and insisted that liberal Zionists opposed to the occupation were worse than Nazi collaborators—to become U.S. ambassador to Israel.

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Menendez speaking before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest Israel Lobby organization, whose interests he consistently championed as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. [Source: nj.com]

In 2017, Menendez co-sponsored a resolution siding with Trump against Obama on the question of Israeli settlements and challenged the right of the United Nations to weigh in on questions of international humanitarian law in territories under foreign belligerent occupation. That same year, he was one of a small minority of Democratic senators to praise Trump for his decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there, a decision that Biden has retained. At that time, Menendez also co-sponsored a bill which, had it passed, would have made it a federal crime, punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment, to encourage or participate in boycotts against Israel or Israeli settlements.

While the sheer brazenness of Menendez’s corrupt practices is fodder for news headlines, the bigger story may be these:

Why would the Democratic Party choose someone so far to the right of the progressive majority of voters who gave them their narrow Senate majority to become the party’s effective foreign policy spokesperson and to have so much influence in the role the United States plays in the world?

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  1. That a person such as Menendez could be in any way a member of any US political organisation tells you all you need to know about the disgusting US govt.

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