Prosecutors say they will try Seabrook again; it’s unclear whether Menendez will face another trial, though the 10-2 deadlock can’t be encouraging to the government. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday called for a Senate Ethics Committee probe of Menendez. “Senator Menendez was indicted on numerous federal felonies,” McConnell said in a statement. “He is one of only twelve U.S. senators to have been indicted in our history.”
If both men go free, however, they will be the latest examples in an emerging trend: People around the world, and Americans in particular, seem to be living through a golden age of corruption.
One could date the trend inside the U.S. to June 2016, when the Supreme Court overturned the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. It’s not that the justices found that McDonnell hadn’t done the things for which he was convicted; it’s that they decided that his favors on behalf of a friend who gave him more than $175,000 in gifts didn’t constitute legal corruption. As my colleague Matt Ford explained, the McDonnell decision played a key role in the Menendez case, with the judge nearly throwing the whole case out because of the Supreme Court’s verdict.
Since then, prosecutors have been stymied over and over. As U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara made his name racking up corruption convictions for major New York state politicians, including Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the New York State Assembly, and Dean Skelos, his Republican counterpart in the State Senate. In March, President Trump fired Bharara, despite having previously told him he would stay on. In July, Silver’s conviction was overturned, and two months later, so was Skelos’s.
The moment is not restrained to the U.S.—it is international, or perhaps more rightly transnational. Earlier this month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed a tranche of documents they called the Paradise Papers, a follow-up to the blockbuster 2015 Panama Papers. But in comparison, the Paradise Papers seemed to land with much less impact. That’s not because the behavior described in the Paradise Papers is necessarily less egregious; perhaps the problem is that the public is so news-saturated that fatigue prevented greater focus.
The documents implicated Queen Elizabeth II in dubious investments in the Cayman Islands, a notorious tax shelter. Apple, having remonstrated that it was not hiding its cash “on some Caribbean island,” devised a scheme to hide its cash on Jersey, an island in the English Channel, instead.
Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, came out looking especially bad. When he entered the Trump administration, Ross kept an investment in a shipping company with close ties to the Kremlin and a Vladimir Putin crony facing sanctions. He disclosed the existence of the investment partnership during the confirmation process, but not that the partnership was invested in the shipping company. Forbes, which had long featured Ross on its list of the richest people, announced that having reviewed new documents it no longer believed he was even a billionaire.