Vermont Senator and 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stuttered his way through a fairly straightforward question from CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday: Should Sen. Bob Menendez resign if convicted of corruption?
“Democratic Senator Bob Menendez is facing corruption charges in New Jersey. I want to show you a new poll from Suffolk University-USA Today. It finds that 84 percent of the people in New Jersey would want Menendez to resign if he’s convicted,” Tapper said.
“Where do you come down on this? If Senator Menendez is convicted, should he resign immediately?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” Sanders stammered, before going on to avoid the question entirely.
“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,” Sanders said.
“In America, that’s what it’s about. You have a trial, and 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,” he said.
Menendez is alleged to have used his influence to help Palm Beach, Florida eye doctor and co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a mega Democratic donor. Prosecutors allege Menendez helped to facilitate visas for the Melgen’s foreign girlfriends, and meddled in a multimillion-dollar Medicare scheme and pushed to influence a port security contract in the Dominican Republic with links to Melgen.
In exchange, prosecutors allege Menendez lived a lavish lifestyle beyond his means with flights on Melgen’s private jet, luxury vacations in the Dominican Republic and Paris, and other perks of being friends with Melgen, the Associated Press reports.
Melgen has already been convicted of 67 counts of fraud in a separate federal trial in Florida involving the $105 million Medicare scheme, and is now awaiting sentencing in that case pending the outcome of the New Jersey trial, according to the New York Post.
As MSNBC’s chief legal correspondent Ari Melber puts it, “the case against Menendez as a legal matter doesn’t look close, it looks overwhelming.”
Walter Schaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, also tweeted that Menendez should resign immediately, if convicted.
“There is no room for equivocation here,” he wrote. “If Senator Menendez is convicted, he should resign immediately.”
Sanders, of course, isn’t the only Senate Democrat unwilling to say the same.
Menendez’s New Jersey colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, went as far as to donate $20,000 to Menendez’s legal defense fund and sat in the front row to support him on the first day of trial last month.
“He’s innocent until proven guilty. So he is an innocent man,” Booker said, according to The Washington Free Beacon.