On September 13th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia ruled against Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who was seeking to have bribery and corruption charges against him dropped. Menendez’s attorney signaled in a statement he would ask the Supreme Court to address his appeal rather than take his chances on a jury.
Menendez (a Hillary Clinton super delegate who served as her national campaign co-chair during her failed 2008 presidential campaign) was indicted in April 2015 over allegations he accepted nearly one million dollars in gifts and campaign contributions, i.e. bribes, in exchange for helping donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist based in Florida. A lower court ruled against Menendez, allowing the Justice Department’s case to move forward, with the Third Circuit Court upholding that ruling. The Justice Department has urged a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey to expedite the trial given it has been 17 months already since the indictment.
Another Clinton super delegate, Congresswoman Corinne Brown (D-FL), was indicted on 22 counts on multiple fraud charges in July 2016 regarding her involvement with an unlicensed charity based in Virginia. Brown narrowly lost re-election her recent Democratic Primary, but is still serving in Congress until January 2017.
Former Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA), also a Clinton super delegate, resigned in July 2016 after being convicted on corruption charges. Fattah initially was expected to continue serving in Congress until his sentencing in October, but backlash pushed him to formally resign.
This trend of permitting high-profile public officials from remaining in elected office after receiving federal indictments normalizes corruption. Normal citizens indicted on charges related to their jobs would either be fired or forced to resign. Public office should be held to even higher standards than the private sector, as they are accountable to their constituents.
Instead, these standards of public office in congress and the presidency, as this year’s general election demonstrates, have been rapidly declining in recent years. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy has been marred by a FBI investigation into her private e-mail server, which Clinton was criticized by FBI Director James Comey for being “extremely careless” in its use. FOIA requests releasing e-mails from the server have revealed pay-to-play examples involving donations to the Clinton Foundation and access to Clinton’s State Department while she served as Secretary of State. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has recently opened an inquiry into Donald Trump’s own improprieties involving his charity, the Trump Foundation. Both Trump and Clinton have resisted calls for greater transparency and press access, disregarding what used to be considered normal procedures for presidential candidates.
The audacity of Trump and Clinton to refuse accountability and the demands for transparency in running for President reflects that of public officials in congress like Senator Menendez and Congresswoman Brown. What kind of representation are constituents receiving when public officials behave in ways where they have to worry about staying out of jail because of actions they took in office? As American Citizens, they have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but constituents also have the right to unencumbered representation from their public officials. Clinton should not have been propped up by the Democratic Party to run a presidential campaign while under a FBI criminal investigation, and Senator Menendez and Congresswoman Brown should not be serving in Congress while facing indictments for abusing the authority their political offices grant them. Dangerous precedents for democracy are set when politicians are allowed to act above the law in office and get away with it.