Corruption and influence peddling seem to be running rampant in Washington these days, but that’s nothing new. We have a rich history of political scandal that goes back to our founding.
America loves the spectacle of bringing a politician down: it’s part of our heritage. The tyrant King George started it all when he demanded higher taxes on tea and quartering soldiers in colonialists’ homes. Our rebel forebears weren’t having it and thankfully we have the Third Amendment to ensure it can never happen again. Aaron Burr, of course, is one of America’s favorite politicians to have been run out of public life. After being accused of treason for attempting to start his own country by seizing the Louisiana Territory, he followed it up by killing in a duel the father of our monetary policy and Broadway’s favorite money-printer.
In more recent memory our most fun scandals tend toward the financial end — and we’ve had some great ones. Who can forget Duke Cunningham, the fighter pilot ace turned congressman, who was found taking millions in bribes from defense contractors? Or Jesse Jackson Jr., sent to prison for using $750,000 in campaign funds to purchase some absolutely fabulous items, like a Michael Jackson fedora and cashmere capes? Or Aaron Schock, who showed his love for Downton Abbey the only way he knew how, by using thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to decorate his congressional office in a way that would make the Dowager Countess of Grantham blush.
Our personal favorite is William Jefferson, the Democratic congressman from Louisiana who was found with $90,000 cash in his freezer, wrapped in aluminum foil and hidden inside frozen-food containers. While not nearly as flashy as some of the others, Jefferson obviously understood the importance of keeping your cash fresh and free from freezer burn.
Which brings us to Senator Bob Menendez. In late September, Menendez, along with his wife Nadine, was indicted on three counts for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Egyptian businessmen who hold close ties to the Egyptian government and intelligence services. Menendez is no stranger to charges of corruption and influence peddling, having beaten a similar case in 2015 where he was accused of securing favors and lobbying for government contracts on behalf of a campaign donor who showered him with gifts, including private jet trips, Paris hotels and rounds of golf at swanky private clubs.
Now Menendez appears to have taken his dalliances with influence peddling to an entirely new level. Not content with mere gifts, this time he’s accused of taking his bribes in cash, gold bars and even a Mercedes. The bars and $550,000 in bills were found squirreled away in his closet, stuffed into pockets of clothing. Menendez doesn’t appear to be as worried about his cash going stale as Congressman Jefferson — and while The Spectator can’t condone Menendez’s behavior, we do commend him on his keen fiscal sense. In this economy, taking bribes in cash is a fool’s game. Gold is a fantastic store of value, as any Fox News viewer knows, and a great hedge against the rampant inflation.
In the indictment we learn that Nadine Menendez was the go-between and cut-out between the Egyptians and Menendez to communicate and accept the bribes. A United States senator can’t be seen taking cash directly from the briber, that would be immoral! But of course implicit in the arrangement were the actions Menendez would take to make good on the payments.
This arrangement sounds an awful lot like another scandal that’s been unfolding, drip by drip, in Washington. Almost weekly we find a new revelation about how Hunter Biden did business and traded on the name of his powerful father. We know about his sweetheart contract with Burisma and clients in China. But we had been told consistently that the elder Biden knew nothing of the business and never met or spoke with Hunter’s business associates. We now know that Hunter would often call his father while with these associates, putting on full display his access to one of the most powerful politicians in the world. President Biden would say hello and offer some banter before signing off. He didn’t need to be part of these deals — he just had to show up as proof of access to power.
Is that much different from the arrangement Menendez had with his wife?
We don’t yet know how much Hunter influenced his father on behalf of his business associates, but we do know that the description by the White House of the nature of Joe Biden’s relationship with Hunter’s associates continues to evolve. It is clear that Hunter operated almost solely on the power of his father, so is it far-fetched to think Hunter’s associates got something in return for their payments?
So far, Biden père has managed to skirt through without corruption charges — and while there’s been no indictment yet for either Biden’s rampant influence peddling, we should not think of the Menendez and Biden cases as unrelated. They’re both symptoms of a political system rife with corruption and politicians who believe you’re too stupid to notice. There are two sets of rules in Washington, one for the powerful and one for the rest of us. Of course, Menendez may have flown too close to the sun — taking actual gold bars from Egyptians may have been a pyramid too far. Will the Bidens face any consequences? The answer will tell you everything you need to know about power in Washington.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s November 2023 World edition.