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Is Bob Menendez's best hope Donald Trump?

Is Bob Menendez's Best Hope Donald Trump?
Presented by Alibaba: Matt Friedman's must-read briefing on the Garden State's important news of the day
Mar 06, 2024 View in browser

By Matt Friedman

Presented by

Good Wednesday morning!

It just keeps getting worse for Bob Menendez. On Tuesday afternoon he was hit with 12 new charges in the feds’ THIRD superseding indictment against him, including three obstruction counts against Menendez and his wife, Nadine. That’s 16 counts total Menendez is facing. And on Friday, co-defendant Jose Uribe — the guy who allegedly bought Nadine Menendez a Mercedes as a bribe to replace the car she totaled when she hit and killed a man — pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. What’s clearer than ever is that the feds’ case against senator is a lot stronger than the last one, which he beat by mistrial in 2017.

Here’s a provocative question: Is the senator’s best chance at beating this case not in the courtroom, but in the Oval Office — if Donald Trump wins back the presidency? Granted, this speculation. But it’s informed speculation. Consider:

  • Trump commuted the lengthy Medicare fraud prison sentence of Menendez friend and former co-defendant Salomon Melgen for Medicare fraud. Did he do it because he thought an injustice was done, or was something else in play?
  • Trump publicly suggested Menendez is being persecuted by President Joe Biden’s Justice Department. And when “Stuttering” John Melendez pretended to be the senator and reached Trump by phone on Air Force One in 2018, a year after Menendez’s corruption mistrial, Trump congratulated him on going through a “tough situation and I don't think a very fair situation.” 
  • Trump Attorney General Bob Barr testified that he pushed the Justice Department not to re-try Menendez in 2018.
  • Menendez, who has virtually no shot at the Democratic nomination for reelection, has not ruled out running as an independent. He’d have virtually no shot of winning, but he might be able to do some damage and help Republicans in the process. Remember that “knows where all the skeletons in closets are.”  

Is it a big stretch to imagine the Democratic senator working with Trump to help himself? I’m not the only one who thinks this is not an outlandish idea.

“I think that Sen. Menendez’ss angle here to stay out of jail would 100 percent include facilitation by President Trump if he’s successful,” said Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. “And I think Bob Menendez holds a big chip to benefit Donald Trump in the fact that he could throw the Senate race here into chaos.”

Trump wasn’t stingy with clemency in 2020, and he didn’t face any repercussions for it. Take the example of Eliyahu Weinstein, the New Jersey ponzi schemer whose prison sentence Trump commuted — in part at the urging of U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew — and who upon release allegedly went right back to ponzi scheming. As outrageous as that is, it’s seldom mentioned beyond New Jersey. “Donald Trump is a very transactional guy, as is Bob Menendez. So there’s an overlay there,” Fulop said.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I think it is time for some reform that opens up to more voters." — U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman calling to overhaul the county line system

HAPPY BIRTHDAY — Ellen Park, Roland Straten

WHERE’S MURPHY? — No public schedule

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OPRA’S ON — The long-awaited bill to overhaul the Open Public Records Act, sure to be controversial was finally introduced this week and now you can read it. It’s being fast-tracked in the upper house, with a hearing scheduled in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Monday.

Some takeaways: While much of the bill targets commercial vendors, it appears that it will make it very difficult for reporters and members of the public to obtain emails and text messages from public workers and politicians because they’ll have to identify “specific individuals” and “specific subject matter” over a “a discrete and limited time period.” And the bill would change the awarding of attorneys fees. Under current law, requestors who successfully challenge a denial “shall be entitled to a reasonable attorney’s fee.” This bill would change that “shall” to a “may,” which makes a huge difference.

I’ll have more on this soon, but you can also read open records advocate CJ Griffin’s X account for more details. We’ll see how much this bill changes if and when it gets out of committee.

EDUCATION — “Teachers are hiding abuse and sexual misconduct. N.J. schools are ignoring the law, damning report says,” by NJ Advance Media’s Adam Clark: “A ‘creepy’ science teacher retired when accused of giving students back rubs and holding a girl’s hand. An elementary school educator was disciplined for withholding bathroom breaks and grabbing students by the shirt. And a science teacher was reprimanded on multiple occasions after students complained he called them ‘cute,’ asked girls to bend over in front of him and talked about oral sex. Each was able to find work in a new school that had no clue about their prior behavior, according to a new state investigation. The State Commission of Investigation found the law designed to stop schools from ‘passing the trash’ is insufficient and easily manipulated, allowing educators to conceal their past misconduct while school officials ignore, misinterpret or fail to comply with the rules, according to a scathing report issued Tuesday, … The State Commission of Investigation found there was no state oversight, no one to enforce the law, no standardized process for reporting or verifying information and too much reliance on educators with histories of inappropriate conduct telling the truth,”


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PICTURE PUNISHMENT — “Bill would give legal resource to women who receive unwanted nude images, sponsor says,” by New Jersey Monitor’s Sophie Nieto-Munoz: :”Five bills intended to expand punishment for people convicted of online crimes passed unanimously and swiftly out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee Monday. … Among the bills the committee approved is legislation that would make electronically sending unsolicited nude photos a disorderly persons offense, with a punishment of up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. … More than 40% of women 18 to 24 report having received an unwanted sexual picture online or via text, according to a 2018 YouGov poll.”

HEY COLLIGAN MAN! — “Colligan retiring as state PBA president,” by New Jersey Globe’s David Wildstein:  “Patrick Colligan, one of the state’s most politically influential law enforcement union leaders, will retire as president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association on May 1 after 31 years in law enforcement and eleven years as president. … ’From my early days with the Franklin Police Department to the challenges we faced together at the NJSPBA including a global pandemic and the most difficult time in modern policing, serving our membership has been my absolute privilege.’ Colligan played a key role in securing autonomy for the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System. … It’s not immediately clear who will replace Colligan, although the union’s executive vice president, Peter Andreyev, is a likely candidate."

—“Want to comment on NJ Transit 15% fare hike? You’ll have to be there in person"

—“Are N.J.’s Black businesses thriving or just surviving?” 

—“Justices rule authorities can seek bullet removed during surgery years after gunfight” 


WAGE FOR THE MACHINE — “What's Tammy Murphy's flex? Bergen County's Democratic machine delivered a win,” by The Record’s Charles Stile: “It took one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s top $280,000-a-year patronage hires to save his wife’s bid for the U.S. Senate Monday night. Paul Juliano steered the wobbly Tammy Murphy campaign away from political abyss with a show of force at the Bergen County Democratic Convention. … [T]he machine flexed its muscle, which was always central to the Tammy Murphy strategy and, on Monday, the Bergen machine operated with more efficiency than a NJ Transit train at rush hour. The machine gave her the institutional advantages that compensate for her shortcomings as a candidate. And now the victory will most likely calm the nerves of other county bosses who are facing an organic, angry backlash at New Jersey’s archaic line system, a vestige of Tammany-Hall style politics in the only state in the country that uses such ballot designs.”

COMING TODAY — A Monmouth poll to be released today explores public opinion of Democratic and Republican U.S. Senate candidates, including respondents’ likelihood of voting for them if they’re their party’s nominee. My bold prediction: Most people don’t know anything about most of the candidates.

—“With primary looming, Rep. Pascrell says ‘Hamas must agree to the ceasefire deal

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LOOKING FORWARD TO KNOWING EVEN LESS IF OPRA BILL PASSES — “Why is Asbury Park school board keeping secrets about suspended superintendent?” by The Asbury Park Press’ Charles Daye: “More than a week after Asbury Park Schools Superintendent RaShawn M. Adams was placed on administrative leave by the Board of Education, the future of the district's leadership remains unclear. ‘Since Dr. Adams’ employment status is a personnel matter, the district will not offer any comments at this time," acting interim superintendent Mark Gerbino said. … Prior to his vote, [board member Anthony] Remy said he felt there has been a bias against Adams ‘from day one.’ … Adams held a press conference in December and claimed internal critics and political figures in Trenton are working against the best interests of the district, blasting the local teachers' union leader for what he said was the union's role in removing a fiscal monitor assigned by the state.”

BRILLIANT PLAN — “Toms River petition could force repeal of police job cuts or put them before voters,” by The Asbury Park Press’ Jean Mikle: “Organizers of a petition drive aimed at repealing a police staffing ordinance have collected nearly 5,000 registered voters' signatures, above the 3,079 they say are needed to put the measure back before the Township Council. Phil Brilliant, one of the leaders of the petition drive, turned in 541 pages of signatures Monday to Township Clerk Mike Cruoglio. ‘This was a nonpartisan push from all sides of Toms River, all wards of Toms River," Brilliant said.’ … If the council does not act, a special election on the ordinance would be scheduled 40 to 60 days later, said former Democratic Councilman Terrance Turnbach, who worked on the petition drive. … Council members voted 5 to 2 on Feb. 14 in favor of Mayor Daniel Rodrick's proposal to cut two captains' positions from the police department in order to pay for eight new emergency medical technicians.”

KURTZ: DON’T MAKE MY DISTRICT THE HEART OF DANKNESS— “Albany Avenue cannabis expansion push shows competing Atlantic City interests,” by The Press of Atlantic City’s Michelle Brunetti Post: “The two local men seeking to open a cannabis store in a former bar on Albany Avenue grew up in the area and say their lives were deeply affected by drug enforcement. … The problem is, the location where Aponte and Lugo have leased space — the former Choice Bar at 470 N. Albany Ave. across from Bader Field — is not in the city's "green zone" where cannabis businesses are allowed. Now, Mayor Marty Small Sr. is making a big push to get Albany Avenue west of the bridge included in the green zone, which is a commercial strip on the edge of the Chelsea Heights neighborhood .… Sixth Ward Councilman Jesse Kurtz continues to oppose allowing cannabis to get a foothold in Chelsea Heights, which he represents in part. While he supports Aponte and Lugo in their attempt to enter the industry, Kurtz said that can't be his first priority. ‘My number one concern is, there is not neighborhood support for cannabis to be in that area,’ Kurtz said.”


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—“'Personal vendetta': Spotswood mayor sues borough council as lawsuits keep piling up” 

—“Newark, again, breaks ground for Terrell Homes redevelopment” 

—“Red Bank: Schools eye “devastating” state aid cuts” 

—“Monmouth wants to spend $20M fixing landfill odor; here is how far the stink travels” 

—“Why is Paterson settling cop lawsuit with criminal charges still pending?” 

—“Jersey City mayor shoots down idea of appointed school board, but some council members open to change” 

“[Evesham] elementary school principal stole $700 from district, cops say” 

—“U.S. Postal Service is looking at moving mail sorting from [Bellmawr] to Philadelphia” 


On the ground in Albany. Get critical policy news and analysis inside New York State. Track how power brokers are driving change across legislation and budget and impacting lobbying efforts. Learn more.


BUT LINDBERGH SEEMED LIKE SUCH A NICE GUY —  The Lindbergh Baby kidnapping: A grisly theory and a renewed debate,” by The New York Times’ Tracey Tully: “Nearly 100 years ago, the Lindbergh case was known as the crime of the century by virtue of its cinematic details and the boy’s high-profile parents, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a diplomat’s daughter, and Charles A. Lindbergh, an aviator who had catapulted to fame by completing the world’s first nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris. In the decades since, as the keepers of the Lindbergh kidnapping archives can attest, public interest in the case has never subsided — nor has skepticism about Hauptmann’s guilt. But a bizarre and grisly new theory about Lindbergh’s potential involvement in his son’s death, and renewed legal pressure to force DNA testing of evidence, have combined to thrust one of the country’s most enduring murder mysteries squarely back into public consciousness. … Lise Pearlman, a retired California judge, now speculates that Lindbergh was capable of something even more sinister: sacrificing his son for scientific experiments that led to the child’s death.”

IT JUST MAKES YOU WANNA HURLEY — “Hurricane Hurley hits Liberty State Park,” by Eric Conner for The Jersey City Times: “It isn’t the DEP that’s flooding Liberty State Park. It’s Bob Hurley, the erstwhile hometown hero turned president of the People’s Park Foundation — a front group for billionaire golf course owner Paul Fireman. … Fireman has always been about taking away from the public, constantly seeking ways to expand his ultra-exclusive Liberty National golf course and create new commercial opportunities for himself. Since he was previously stopped from moving east onto the bird sanctuary at Caven Point, his only current option is to expand west onto the sporting facilities used by Jersey City’s public schools. Were sports stadiums to be built in Liberty State Park, then it would be easier for a future mayor like the ever-malleable Jim McGreevey to coerce the board of education to sell off the Caven Point sports complex to Fireman. McGreevey has already begun planting the idea that there is a looming fiscal crisis for Jersey City and that cuts must be made to save the city’s budget. It is worth noting that Hurley and Fireman’s People’s Park Foundation’s lobbyists River Crossing Strategy Group have strong ties to Jim McGreevey from his time as governor.”

IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM! — “‘Sopranos’ booth sold for big bucks, but to who? Another cliffhanger at Holsten’s,” by NJ Advance Media’s Jeremy Schneider: “The beloved Bloomfield ice cream parlor has sold the booth in which Tony Soprano sat with his family in 2007, during the iconic final scene of HBO’s hit show ;Sopranos.’ But we still don’t know who bought it, or even how much they paid. After five days of bidding on eBay … the final bid of $82,600 was made at 6:38 p.m. Monday night … It’s unclear if that final eBay bid was accepted, or if the listing ended because a third-party bidder entered the fray. Holsten’s has not yet revealed who purchased the booth, but has hinted at a potential announcement.”


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Is Bob Menendez's best hope Donald Trump?