By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
State House politicians we spoke to today were quick to support Sen. Bob Menendez.
“Individuals like myself stand firm with him in this fight and I call upon all Democrats, whether it be from Essex, Hudson, all around the state, to stand firm with him,” said Leroy Jones.
“I gotta tell you, to be commenting on just a report, that’s just out there, there isn’t anything out there officially, I think it’s improper and that’s why I’ve taken this stand. The gentleman has been a true champion of the people,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
Menendez was adamant he’s done nothing wrong.
We wondered whether the charges alone might mute his voice or undercut his influence.
“We have a judicial system. A system where you’re innocent until proven guilty. I don’t even know what he’s charged with yet and we’re talking about his voice being heard not as forcefully? I don’t think that’ll happen,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak.
A politician in trouble gets other people thinking about succeeding him.
Were he to step down, Gov. Chris Christie could name a replacement, and either this year or next there’d be a general election.
Steve Sweeney could run for U.S. Senate instead of governor.
“I think that no one should speculate on anything right now. We have two U.S. senators and you’re innocent until proven guilty, so accusations can be made,” Sweeney said.
“You always see people in the state who circle like a shark when they smell blood. I don’t think there’s been a lot of blood shed yet on this. I don’t believe that at all. I believe this is just something that’s been reported by CNN. You haven’t seen anything yet from the Justice Department,” said ???? Stack.
“I caution the media and I caution the public on allegations, whether its against a Democrat or Republican, so I don’t think there’s any movement at all politically at this point, based on what we read in a headline,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.
Washington D.C. Republicans Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham said over the weekend they think the potential charges against Menendez are payback for his thwarting President Obama on Iran nuclear negotiations, on Cuba, on the Ukraine.
A few in Menendez’s camp advance the same theory.
“I don’t think that’s at all accurate. Folks see ghosts that aren’t there,” Jones said.
“If that was true, then there should be criminal charges against the Justice Department and those who brought the charges. I would hope that that would never be part of the Criminal Justice System. I doubt that any Attorney General, any U.S. Attorney, would stoop that low,” Bramnick said.
“I fight for these issues and for the people of our country every single day. That’s who I am and I am not going anywhere,” said Menendez at Friday’s press conference.
No one expects him to step down.
“He’s a fighter, he’s always been a fighter, and I believe he’ll go all the way on this thing, no doubt about it,” Stack said.
When asked what extent he expects him to fight this, Sweeney said, “Knowing Sen. Menendez, to the death.”
For Menendez today, the State House contains only friends.