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October 17th , 2023        Len’s Letter #66 Menendez should resign or be defeated

Andy Kim                         Bob Menendez

You all know that New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, his wife, and three businessmen have been indicted. You probably know that the charges include several conspiracy charges — to commit bribery, to commit honest services fraud, and to commit extortion under color of official right.  You may know that, in addition to cash stuffed in envelopes in Menendez’s clothes and gold bars, the alleged bribes include payments toward a home mortgage, a Mercedes convertible, compensation for a no-show or rarely-show job, and more.

If you are still following this story, rather than turning away in disgust, you know that almost all New Jersey Democratic Members of Congress (but not including Senator Menendez’ son, Rob who represents NJ 08) have urged Bob Menendez to resign from the Senate.  Several Democratic Senators including fellow New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, neighbor John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, and a quintet of Senators up for election – Montana’s Jon Tester of Montana, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Nevada’s Jacky Rosen, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, and Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey have called on him to resign.

In addition, New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim has announced he is running against Bob Menendez in the June 4 primary. I will be telling you more about Andy Kim and asking you to support him.  I rarely take sides in Democratic primaries.  The purpose of this newsletter, while the Republican Party has collectively lost its mind to or is cowed by a cult leader, is to do what I can to elect Democrats.  An effort to reelect Bob Menendez would be harmful to Democrats.  A Senator Andy Kim would be a terrific addition for the Democrats in the US Senate.

So far, Senator Menendez defense has not been a legal one.  He has claimed that his indictment is political. He has claimed that Hispanics will not forget this indictment, implying the indictment is anti-Hispanic.  He has claimed that the hundreds of thousands of dollars found in his house were drawn from his personal savings; and he claimed that he had that cash because his parents, who he said were refugees from Communist Cuba, had feared confiscation of their wealth.  He claimed that the prosecutors had misrepresented the “normal work of a congressional office.”

Let’s look:

The Prosecutor is Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  Formerly the Chief of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force for that office, he is a Black man whose father was a medical doctor and mother was a nurse.  Both were immigrants from Jamaica who met at Howard University.  Damian Williams grew up in Atlanta and went to a private Atlanta high school where he was student body president.  He went to Harvard and earned a Master’s degree from Emmanuel College of Cambridge University. Back in the US, he went to work, in 2003, for the Kerry campaign.  He had applied to law school and would begin at Yale in the fall of 2004. While he was waiting to enter law school, he became the “body man” for Terry McAuliffe, who was then the Chair of the DNC.  Then tragedy struck.  His older sister died as a result of a rare event — complications from a root canal

After graduation from Yale Law School in 2007, while clerking for Appellate Judge Merrick Garland, he met Jennifer Wynn on the bus from Washington to New York City.  Five years later, they were married.  She is the former education head of the Obama Foundation, teaches at NYU’s Stern School of Business, and has her own consulting business on the development of leadership skills.  She is the daughter of Maria Lantigua Collado, a phlebotomist at an AIDS center in Queens and Anthony Wynn of Atlanta, who is a supervisor for a security firm.

After his clerkships, Damian Williams spent three years as an associate at Paul, Weiss.  At the law firm, he was member of the representation of Governor David Patterson in a 2010 ethics inquiry.

Damian Williams left Paul, Weiss to work in the Southern District of New York, where he is now the US Attorney and head of the office. In 2012, during that first year, his father was arrested and indicted for accepting Medicaid funds for performing elective abortions.  He pled guilty in 2014, received probation, and paid a fine of $215,000. In the Southern District, he was part of the prosecution of the former speaker of the New York Assembly Sheldon Silver and of Erie County Congressman Chris Collins for insider trading.  After Silver’s conviction was overturned on appeal, Damian Williams was the lead trying him again.  Although convictions on some counts were overturned on appeal, Damian Williams’ conviction of Sheldon Silver was sufficient to produce a 6 ½ -year prison sentence for those counts that remained.

Damian Williams’ work was impressive enough so that Chuck Schumer recommended him to the President as an outstanding candidate for US Attorney.  In that role, he has overseen high profile cases – NY Governor Hochul’s choice for Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin indicted for bribery and fraud, the cybercurrency fraud cases of Sam Bankman-Fried and Do Kwon, and the sentencing of “Real Housewives” star Jennifer Shah for telemarketing fraud.

There is nothing in Damian Williams record to suggest a political reason for prosecuting Bob Menendez.  The last thing that Chuck Schumer would want, as Senate Majority Leader would be to further reduce his 50-49-1 majority.  Nor is there anything in his record to suggest that Damian Williams has an animus against Hispanics.  You never know with relatives, but it is worth noting that Damian Williams’ mother-in-law is Hispanic.   One more thing.  Damian Williams had enough experience with political prosecutions to know the difference between crimes and ordinary political activity. 

Bob Menendez was born on January 1, 1954.  His parents had escaped Cuba a few months before.  It is implausible that Bob Mendendez learned from his carpenter father and seamstress mother to fear Communist confiscation of assets. They certainly did not develop such a fear while they were in Cuba. They had left for the United States years before the Communists took over Cuba.  The Communist revolution had not yet occurred.  Aspiring revolutionaries had been tried and convicted.  Among them was Attorney Fidel Castro who had abandoned law suits for direct action and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.  If his funds or, a better target, his wealthy family’s farm and resources, were confiscated by Batista’s government, I saw no report of it.  Batista made his corrupt money through kickbacks from gangsters and through other nefarious activities.

Bob Menendez’s family had moved to New Jersey. He credits his mother’s commitment to education.  The first in his family to go to college, he got a BA from St. Peter’s College in Jersey City and a JD from Rutgers Law School in 1979.  He worked as an aide for Union City Mayor William Musto and became a member of the City Board of Education in 1974.

In 1977, investigations began into a $2.2 million school addition project that ultimately cost $12 million and led to a corruption trial against Musto.  In 1978, the Deputy Public Works Director along with School Board Secretary Bob Menendez created the Alliance Civic Association and began quiestioning the cost of the school project.  In 1981 Musto and others were indicted.  In the spring of 1982, despite the indictment, Musto defeated Bob Menendez in the election for mayor.  Convicted, forced from office, Musto’s wife replaced him as mayor.  In 1984, Bob Menendez ran for Union City mayor again and was elected, defeating a ticket led by Musto’s wife Rhyta.  There was also a reform ticket. It may have run third.

In 1987, not unlike Musto who served as a State Senator while mayor of Union City, Bob Menendez was elected to New Jersey’s Assembly.  In 1991 he moved on to the state senate. It was available because the incumbent died. After the 1990 census, New Jersey’s 14th Congressional district was reconfigured to be majority Hispanic.  The incumbent retired and Bob Menendez was elected to take his place. In 2006, Bob Menendez was appointed to the US Senate.  John Corzine, the previous Senator had resigned from the Senate after being elected Governor of New Jersey.

“New Jersey deserves better.”

Andy Kim, 41 year old Congressman from New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District announced he would run in the primary against Senator Menendez.  Elected in the Blue Wave of 2018, he ousted wealthy Insurance executive Tom MacArthur.  Kim was one of the 2018 candidates who promised to vote against Nancy Pelosi.  He voted against her in the caucus.  But when the entire Congress was voting for Speaker and every Democratic vote counted, he was one of her votes.

Though not on a committee associated with health care, he made health issues something of a focus.  His first bill would have lowered prescription drug costs.  He was appointed to House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. On other issues, he worked to prevent a Congressional pay raise. He sought to prevent Members of Congress from trading stock while in office. After the January 6 insurrection, wearing a blue suit, he was the object of a memorable photograph as he cleaned up some of the mess left by the violent crowds.

He is on committees associated with his expertise – Armed Services and Foreign Affairs.  He has come a long way to take these roles.  Andy Kim has a story, a family story and a personal one.  He has had to demonstrate toughness in achieving success and in the very nature of the work he did.

An orphan and a polio victim in Korea, Kim’s father lived on the streets. Kim’s mother was almost as poor. She was from a failed farm community devastated by famine.  They got to the US somehow and the opportunity was transformative. Dad earned a PhD and became a scientist.  Mom became a nurse.  They are a story of what the United States means to immigrants and what immigrants mean to the US.

Students of schooling know about the diligence and discipline which is characteristic of the South Korean approach education.  The Kims expected diligence and discipline in New Jersey.  Andy Kim responded with very high achievement.  He followed that high achievement with choices that were unusual and rigorous.

Andy Kim‘s first two years of post-secondary education were at tuition-free Deep Springs College in California.  Isolated between two mountain ranges, the 30 students at Deep Springs are all male. The school demanding academically and the  students work 20 hours per week on the cattle and alfalfa farm. The college’s goal is for its students to learn a kind of self-sufficiency.  The students govern themselves – another element of the self-sufficiency they are expected to develop.

A few students at Deep Springs get an Associates Degree.  Most go on to competitive four-year colleges.  Andy Kim went to the University of Chicago, graduating in 2004 Phi Beta Kappa.  Based on his two years at Chicago, he was awarded a Truman scholarship.  He went to Oxford, earned a MPhil, a Rhodes scholarship, and a PhD.

Andy Kim‘s training could evoke the experiences of Confucian scholars training to serve an emperor or the preparation of a French or British civil servant.  Add a touch of Deep Springs’ American individualism.

Andy Kim  portrays himself as a regular guy.  He remembers his first home run.  But he is no more of a regular guy, than Deep Springs is a party school.  Andy Kim is rigorous scholar who has succeeded in tough environments.

In 2018, the incumbent worked furiously to claim that Andy Kim had exaggerated his resume. He focused particularly on Andy Kim’s first job – working of AID in 2005. He claimed Andy Kim was no more than a notetaker  His opponent, despite losing the election, appears to have won the battle over his first job.  Wikipedia describes him as an intern.  The Washington Post, doing a fact check, described him as the rough equivalent to a 2nd Lieutenant.  Even in that role, he has colleagues who describe him as making important contributions.

After his advanced degrees, Andy Kim went to Kabul. He spent eight years working on Obama’s Iraq and Afghanistan policies.  After working as an advisor to Generals Patraeus and Allen, he served as the Iraq Country Director for the State Department and the Director for Iraq at the National Security Council.  In Kabul, he worked for Generals David Petraeus and John Allen as an “Advisor to the Commander.” He appears to have earned the respect of both men – different as they are.

From Afghanistan, Andy Kim went to Washington and the Obama administration.  First, he was a Foreign Affairs officer for the State Department, then the Iraq Country Advisor for the Secretary of State, and finally, for three years, the National Security Council Director for Iraq, reporting to President Barack Obama.  If he exaggerated his work in 2005 in an attempt to demonstrate his capacity to work for a Republican as well as for Democrats, it would be nearly impossible to exaggerate his work in Washington.   He was a crucial figure in our country’s post-war policies toward Iraq.

Andy Kim saw himself as a behind the scenes person, someone who could work on foreign policy for a President of any political party.  Then Donald Trump was elected. He was transforming the Republican Party into an entity that Andy Kim thought he had to work against.  He was shocked into political action.  He tried national organizing, then decided to run for Congress.

‘Picture Andy Kim elected to Congress.  Though he wasn’t in the military, he would fit right in with the Democratic electeds with a military background.  His friends and colleagues were Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania who ran for the Senate, but lost to John Fetterman in the primary, Elaine Luria of Virginia who lost her election in 2020, Elissa Slotkin now running for the US Senate from Michigan, Mikie Sherill of New Jersey, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, and Jared Golden of Maine to name a few.

Andy Kiim was distinctive.  Like Slotkin, he was not actually military.  She was CIA.  He was a civilian defense specialist.  None of the others were likely to attract the support of Senator Elizabeth Warren.  None of the others would have protested against the Iraq War in 2003.

Andy Kim is not shape shifting.  He has a broad view of the country.  He may have learned to be an expert in the Middle East, but his roots are in the Far East.  He understands the poverty his parents grew up in; a poverty created by the War in Korea.  If I were asked which Member of Congress I would want to run for the Senate from New Jersey, Andy Kim would be my choice.

My hope is that Andy Kim will be the only candidate to challenge Menendez.  The winner needs a plurality. Additional candidates would dilute the vote of those who think Menendez really should have resigned.  In 2018, the DCCC made a wise choice in California.  They chose the candidates they supported early so that at least one Democrat would be in the top two of the non-partisan primary there.  The result was the election of many California Democrats.

Andy Kim, as the best and, right now, the only Democratic candidate against Senator Menendez. With your support, he will win the primary and the election.  Help him now.  Discourage anyone else from entering the primary