Thursday, November 01, 2007

Menendez (D-NJ) Under Federal Investigation

TPM Muckraker reports on a Democrat -- good for them:

LiCausi started work for Menendez back when he was in the House in 1998. She was 26. Four years later she left with the title of chief of staff of his New Jersey office, a position that the Times called "midlevel" -- she supervised six people. But immediately she began raking in some hefty contracts, not only as a lobbyist, but also as a fundraiser for Menendez and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Menendez admitted to the Times that he'd "encouraged" the DCCC to hire her for the $10,000 a month spot. And no doubt he was responsible for the work on his political committees, where she was also making another $10,000 a month fundraising for both his political action committee and his campaign. And then there were the lobbying contracts which also rolled in.

The subpoenas issued in the past few months have been to two of LiCausi's clients. One, to Jersey City Medical Center, was originally reported by The Star-Ledger in late August. The other, to the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, was reported two weeks ago. The hospital signed up LiCausi in January, 2003, shortly after she left Menendez's office; the contract paid $280,000 through February of this year. An exec from the hospital has also testified before a grand jury.
This is not all that unusual in Washington -- it's only the romantic link between Senator and staffer that makes this stand out. But certainly it's not unusual for a business seeking federal cash to hire a favored staffer of a key official to represent them. Sometimes that hire is made with the recommendation of the official, though usually not. The staffer then gets credit for the grants that follow.

DC lawyer extraordinaire Stan Brand gets this right:
Criminal defense lawyer Stan Brand told me that generally such a case could be very hard to prosecute. "There's no magical statute," he said. "Unless you have some proof or evidence of personal financial gain by a public official, it’s very hard to make a case.... The typical political give and take isn't going to be enough."
There's not really a need to make things explicit -- to have a Duke Cunningham-style price list, for example. If Hospital A wants grants from Senator Menendez, they don't need to he told to hire his former Chief of Staff. And they certainly don't need to have Menendez explicitly make it a condition of his helping them. Perhaps investigators will find something unusual and prosecutable in all this, perhaps not.

And as far as partisan advantage goes, it's probably better for Democrats if Menendez is quickly found guilty. The state has demonstrated over and over again that they're willing to keep electing crooked Democrats, no matter how many are indicted. If Menendez stays in office despite these rumors and allegations, at least the GOP gets to cite him as an embarrassment to New Jersey and the Senate -- a la Bob Torricelli.

Hat Tip: Insty

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