On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned his post after an embarrassing series of revelations came to light about his unjustifiable pattern of chartering private jets for his travel, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. President Trump signaled that his cabinet secretary was on the ropes earlier in the week, then Price fell on his sword. Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner argued that Price's fundamental problem went beyond abusing public funds: "Price's pledge to never take charter flights again for business was a tacit admission that his previous cover story — that the flights were necessary — was bogus...So this isn't a guy who made a selfish mistake and cost the taxpayers money. This is a guy who concealed his activities and didn't shoot straight." And now he's out.
Say what you will about Price, it doesn't appear as though he broke any laws, or necessarily even violated ethics rules, int the commission of his resignation-worthy conduct. His sins were a betrayal of fiscal conservative principles, a cavalier and selfish attitude toward spending hardworking taxpayers' money, and mounting a feeble, spin-filled defense of his actions. The opposition is trying to attach this stink to other members of the administration, but in at least one case, they're grasping at straws. Meanwhile, on the other side of the partisan aisle, Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is on trial for multiple felonies, including bribery. Prosecutors say he sold his office, accepting lavish gifts and campaign funds from a wealthy patron (himself now a convicted felon over a Medicare fraud scheme), for whom he granted special favors and wielded improper influence. Menendez is baselessly crying racism. Phil Kerpen has been following the trial closely, and filed this summary for the New York Post:
That relationship allowed Menendez to enjoy a lifestyle far beyond his legitimate income of $174,000. It was a life of luxury funded by one of the largest Medicare frauds in history, a $105 million scheme for which Melgen has already been convicted on 67 counts of fraud in a separate federal trial in Florida. In return, Menendez allegedly got Melgen visas for his girlfriends, pressured the State Department to deliver a Dominican port-security contract and pressed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to approve the massive Medicare overbilling scheme that kept the good times rolling...“The case against Menendez as a legal matter doesn’t look close, it looks overwhelming,” MSNBC’s chief legal correspondent Ari Melber accurately observed. “If a politician can take the kind of gifts that Menendez has already taken and be acquitted, then you have to wonder if there’s something wrong with all of these corruption laws in the first place.”
And then there's this little nugget, which includes a private jet angle, since the media has been so interested in that sort of thing lately:
Should Reid be called, prosecutors have already hinted at what they might want to ask about. Court documents claim that Reid reached out to the White House deputy chief of staff in 2011 about Menendez being “upset about how a Florida ophthalmologist was being treated” by CMS. Prosecutors said the White House deputy chief of staff “demurred” as it involved a “dispute between a single doctor and an administrative agency, not a policy matter.” In June 2012, Melgen also flew Reid on his company’s private plane from Washington to Boston and back, but Menendez was not present, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Those damn Koch brothers are everywhere. In any case, one of the more intriguing side plots of the Menendez trial is that one Senate Democrat after another has refused to clearly state that their colleague should immediately resign, or be removed from office, if he's convicted of high crimes. Democrats held a very strong view on this point when a Republican was in similar legal jeopardy in 2008 (just ask Harry Reid), but now they're wavering because there are political implications at play. Democrats should be pressed on this self-serving equivocation, especially as they preen about Price's resignation:
Senate Dems commenting on Price news should be asked if they'll demand Menendez resign immediately if *convicted of felonies.* https://t.co/w6NtBgOD7Z— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 29, 2017
Jake Tapper did exactly that on CNN's State of the Union, eliciting the latest demurral from Bernie Sanders:
Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. You know, I think in this country, people are entitled to due process. I’m not into speculating what if. That will be Menendez's decision. He has not been convicted. Let the process take its course. You know, in America, that's what it's about. You have a trial and people, the jury makes its decision. They have not made their decision. So I think it's a little bit premature to be talking about that.
An overwhelming majority of voters in that heavily blue state believe Menendez should be gone if he's convicted. But the RNC is highlighting that Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, Joe Manchin and others cannot bring themselves to simply assert that yes of course a convicted felon should resign from Congress. They're not being asked if he's guilty, or whether he deserves due process (which is the question they keep insisting on answering); they're being asked whether he should immediately step down if his active corruption trial results in a conviction. This shouldn't be so difficult. I'll leave you with this tweet from the former director of the US Office of Government Ethics:
There is no room for equivocation here. If Senator Menendez is convicted, he should resign immediately.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) October 1, 2017