Menendez could remain in Senate even if he’s convicted

 In Politics

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has continued to support his more senior colleague throughout his indictment and trial, said he believes Menendez is innocent.

“I’m not even going to entertain that hypothetical,” Booker said when asked whether Menendez should resign if convicted. “The reality is I believe he’s going to be vindicated. He’s got a very great case.”

Most Democrats were like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), however — they weren’t going near this issue.

“I learned a long time ago as a prosecutor — never get out in front of a jury,” said Leahy, a state’s attorney before he got to the Senate.

There is Senate precedent for letting Menendez stay in office even if he’s convicted. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Harrison Williams remained in office for nearly 10 months after he was found guilty on bribery charges on May 1, 1981, one of a wave of lawmakers caught up in the Abscam scandal, in which the FBI videotaped politicians taking bribes from an agent disguised as an Arab sheikh.

Through a combination of legal challenges both to the Senate and to his criminal case, Williams delayed efforts to expel him for months.

“The Senate was careful to take no action against Williams until the legal process had run its course, in order not to prejudice the case,” notes the Senate historical record on the case. “Once he had been convicted and sentenced, however, the body was prepared to move against him.”

The Senate Ethics Committee even held two hearings on the matter. Williams had his own counsel, and he was permitted to examine witnesses and ask questions.

By September 1981, the Senate was ready to begin debate to expel Williams, yet the chamber didn’t begin to consider an expulsion measure until March 1982. Knowing that he would lose that vote, Williams resigned before he was expelled.

The Williams saga in the Senate is different from what has occurred in the House, which has expelled its members much more quickly after convictions.

The late Rep. James Traficant, an Ohio Democrat, was convicted on April 11, 2002, on 10 felony counts, including bribery, racketeering, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. After several days of hearings by the House Ethics Committee, an expulsion motion was approved. On July 24, 2002, the House kicked Traficant out by 420-1 margin. The only vote against the resolution was former Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.), who had already lost a primary after getting caught up in an unrelated scandal.

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