Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Position of Dubious Distinction in the History of the Senate

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Position of Dubious Distinction in the History of the Senate

Article excerpt

In its rich history of public corruption, New Jersey has seen scores of mayors, council members, freeholders and state legislators charged with crimes.

It has even had a handful of congressmen who have been indicted while serving on Capitol Hill.

But until Wednesday, only one U.S. senator from New Jersey -- Harrison "Pete" Williams -- had ever faced criminal prosecution.

Now Bob Menendez joins a very small club of senators with the unwanted distinction of having been indicted while in office.

The Democrat from Hudson County was charged with bribery and other crimes Wednesday for allegedly taking gifts from a Florida physician, Salomon Melgen, in exchange for using his office to help Melgen's financial and personal interests. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Menendez is the 12th senator in U.S. history indicted while in office, according to the Senate Historical Office. Only six were convicted, and two of those had their convictions overturned.

Those cases go back to the country's earliest days when John Smith of Ohio was indicted in 1805 on treason charges for helping former Vice President Aaron Burr launch an unsanctioned military expedition against the Spanish in defiance of President Thomas Jefferson. Although he was forced to resign from office, Smith was acquitted after a rigorous defense by his lawyer Francis Scott Key, who would go on to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Through the next two centuries, most of the other senators were indicted on bribery charges. These include everyone from Charles Dietrich, R-Neb., who in 1903 allegedly took $1,300 in exchange for securing a local postmaster job for a constituent, to John Mitchell, R-Ore., who was charged in 1905 with receiving fees from clients for expediting land claims to the federal government.

The most recent was the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, whose conviction for not reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in home improvements was dismissed in 2009 by a judge who cited prosecutorial misconduct. …

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