The risk of receiving a staggering comeuppance or the joy of getting the last laugh is ever present in politics, as it is in many human endeavors. Right now there is a surplus of “the worm turns” episodes as politicians find themselves in unexpectedly uncomfortable spots or with a surprise vindication.
A few years back, then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie investigated New Jersey pol and Senate candidate Robert Menendez but was unable to put together a corruption case, issuing a rare clean bill of health from the feds. Now Menendez has come down with a bad case of crony corruption, and if the feds bring him down this time New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will name his replacement. The noose is certainly tightening, and it has nothing to do with unconfirmed accusations that he used the services of an underage prostitute in the Dominican Republic. (He did, however, apparently inadvertently hire an intern who was an illegal immigrant and a registered sex offender.) Instead, his troubles are much more mundane: $58,500 in rides on a donor’s plane that went unreimbursed until scandal surrounded him and, much worse, alleged interference with a Medicare fraud investigation involving the same donor. The Post reports:
Sen. Robert Menendez raised concerns with top federal health-care officials twice in recent years about their finding that a Florida eye doctor — a close friend and major campaign donor — had overbilled the government by $8.9 million for care at his clinic, Menendez aides said Wednesday.
Menendez (D-N.J.) initially contacted federal officials in 2009 about the government’s audit of Salomon Melgen, complaining to the director overseeing Medicare payments that it was unfair to penalize the doctor because the billing rules were ambiguous, the aides said.
And if that were not enough: “The doctor donated more than $700,000 last year to Menendez’s reelection campaign and other Senate Democrats. And when Melgen needed help with a port security contract in the Dominican Republic last year, Menendez urged U.S. officials to press the country to carry out the multimillion-dollar agreement.”
Democrats haven’t yet thrown him overboard, but his days appear numbered. An ever-elusive New Jersey Senate seat (the fool’s gold of politics in which the GOP periodically dumps millions to no good end) may fall into Republican hands, shaving the Democrats’ Senate majority to four.
Next on the irony-palooza, the left, which enjoyed a cottage industry in making President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney out to be war criminals for asserting the laws of war, not of criminal justice, applied to matters such as detentions and trials of suspected terrorists, is now constructing elegant arguments (not quite as smart as those of former memo drafter John Yoo) to explain that the United States can use drones to kill U.S. citizens overseas without “due process” if they are high-level (vaguely defined) terrorists who imminently (which means not all that imminently) pose a threat to the nation. The media and the left more generally seem only concerned that the president share this procedure with appropriate lawmakers. No posse is being formed, however, to cart the president off to the International Criminal Court.
Conservatives are delighted that the president has discovered that search warrants, probable cause and the rest of the criminal justice system really don’t apply to a war (even one on home soil as history buffs will recall from the lack of due process at Bull Run, Gettysburg, etc.). President Obama would like to think the authorization comes from the congressional war authorization rather than the Constitution itself. Whatever. The key here is that the right’s distinction between criminal law and war powers and the constitutional protections afforded to U.S. citizens in our homeland and the absence of the same for enemy combatants (including Americans who take up arms against their countrymen) has been reaffirmed again and again. Guantanamo is still open. Khalid Sheik Mohammed was not tried in a New York courtroom. And the president drops bombs on the heads of many terrorists. It is good that we have cleared up any confusion about “shredding the Constitution” and such. Obama may not have the vision and fortitude to maintain our military, achieve victory in Afghanistan or stick up for human rights, but he’s got the executive war powers of the commander in chief down pat.
And then we come to Chuck Hagel, the Republican who’s supposed to show how bipartisan the president is and give him cover on huge Pentagon cuts. The dependable soldier was AWOL at the hearing, and instead a clueless bumbler showed up, which did create a tiny bit of bipartisan agreement in the form of amazement that the president wanted such a person around, let alone in charge of our military.
Hagel’s confirmation is now hung up, and virtually all Republicans oppose him. On the karma caravan, in the 2012 election Hagel promised now-freshman Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) that he would support her; he then changed his mind and backed loser Bob Kerrey. Today Fischer writes in an op-ed in the Omaha World Herald: “I appreciate Chuck Hagel’s service, both as an infantryman in Vietnam and as a United States senator representing Nebraska. However, after meeting with him privately and witnessing his confusing and contradictory testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, I cannot support his nomination.”
So Christie may have the pleasure of replacing Menendez. Bush and Cheney get the last laugh on the war on terror. And Hagel and the faux bipartisan president are getting their heads handed to them. Isn’t politics grand?