On Wednesday, federal prosecutors indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) on charges of bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud, and making false statements. Salomon Melgen, a top Menendez benefactor and Florida opthalmologist, was named as a co-conspirator in the 22-count indictment. The feds allege that Melgen provided Menendez with private airfare and free accommodations at the donor's luxury resort in the Dominican Republic. In exchange, Menendez helped "influence the immigration visa proceedings of Melgen's foreign girlfriends" and pressured the State Department, Customs and Border Patrol, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to protect the doctor's business interests.
Menendez will hold a press conference in Newark on Wednesday night to address the allegations.
The black box recovered from flight Germanwings 9525.
An international airliner falls out of the sky, seemingly for no reason. A cryptic recording from the cockpit voice recorder. The crash of Germanwings flight 9525 on Tuesday has, at least in the early going, left investigators with a lot of puzzling questions. It's also drawn obvious parallels to an earlier incident—the 1999 crash of EgyptAir 990 off the coast of Massachusetts.
That crash, which killed 217 people, was ultimately chalked up to "manipulation of the airplane controls," according to the National Transporation Safety Board. But that euphemism left a lot unsaid. In a masterful piece in the Atlantic in 2001, reporter William Langewiesche sought to piece together the mystery of what actually happened:
I remember first hearing about the accident early in the morning after the airplane went down. It was October 31, 1999, Halloween morning. I was in my office when a fellow pilot, a former flying companion, phoned with the news: It was EgyptAir Flight 990, a giant twin-engine Boeing 767 on the way from New York to Cairo, with 217 people aboard. It had taken off from Kennedy Airport in the middle of the night, climbed to 33,000 feet, and flown normally for half an hour before mysteriously plummeting into the Atlantic Ocean sixty miles south of Nantucket. Rumor had it that the crew had said nothing to air-traffic control, that the flight had simply dropped off the New York radar screens. Soon afterward an outbound Air France flight had swung over the area, and had reported no fires in sight—only a dim and empty ocean far below. It was remotely possible that Flight 990 was still in the air somewhere, diverting toward a safe landing. But sometime around daybreak a Merchant Marine training ship spotted debris floating on the waves—aluminum scraps, cushions and clothing, some human remains. The midshipmen on board gagged from the stench of jet fuel—a planeload of unburned kerosene rising from shattered tanks on the ocean floor, about 250 feet below. By the time rescue ships and helicopters arrived, it was obvious that there would be no survivors. I remember reacting to the news with regret for the dead, followed by a thought for the complexity of the investigation that now lay ahead. This accident had the markings of a tough case. The problem was not so much the scale of the carnage—a terrible consequence of the 767's size—but, rather, the still-sketchy profile of the upset that preceded it, this bewildering fall out of the sky on a calm night, without explanation, during an utterly uncritical phase of the flight.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will visit the US-Mexico border on Friday with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Walker, who is considering a run for president, is aiming to bolster his credentials as a critic of President Obama's immigration policies. A photo wouldn't hurt either.
The Mexican border is now an almost mandatory pit stop for Republican politicians (especially presidential aspirants) looking for the aura of on-the-ground experience on immigration. Sure, talking to a rancher, staring across a river, and visiting a detention facility in McAllen for 30 minutes might not offer much of a big-picture perspective. But that hasn't stopped lawmakers from surveying the region in gunboats, ATVs, helicopters, and jeeps—invariably with camera crews in tow. Here's a roundup:
Former Gov. Rick Perry: As governor of Texas for 14 years, Perry had plenty of opportunities to work on his border game face, and it shows:
Sen. Marco Rubio: The Florida senator may take a hit from some conservatives for his support for a path to citizenship for some undocumented residents, but he demonstrated his ability to look stern while gazing into the great unknown on this visit to El Paso in 2011:
Gov. Bobby Jindal: Last November, Louisiana's chief executive toured the Mexican border by boat and helicopter in the hopes of better understanding the child migrant crisis, which by that point had already subsided. Jindal's entourage didn't come away empty-handed: "In at least three locations, we saw where people were trying to make their way into Texas in an unimpeded manner," boasted one member of Jindal's group.
Sen. Ted Cruz: Texas' junior senator has made more visits to Iowa than he has to South Texas, his state's poorest region (much to locals' chagrin). But last year, as media interest in the child migrant crisis peaked, he took the time to visit the border and tour a migrant processing facility in McAllen with former Fox News personality Glenn Beck:
For now, the rest of the field is playing catch-up. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee visited the border in Texas during his 2008 campaign (joined at the Rio Grande by action star Chuck Norris) but has not been back since. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has not visited the border, although he did propose building a fence along New Hampshire's southern border to keep out people from Massachusetts. Acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson recently visited the Israeli border, where he mistook construction equipment for machine gun fire.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be the only potential candidate who has avoided the border on principle. Although he visited Mexico City on a trade mission in 2014, he balked at extending his trip to the Rio Grande—which is very far from both Mexico City and New Jersey. "This is silliness," he told NJ.com. "If I went down there and looked at it, what steps am I supposed to take exactly? Send the New Jersey National Guard there?"
It's not just potential Republican candidates getting in on the action. In recent years, the Rio Grande has been a frequent destination for DC's finest. In 2013, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—who is not running for president—watched law enforcement apprehend a woman who had scaled the 18-foot border fence in Nogales. That same year, while aboard a speed boat with two Republican colleagues, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) found a body floating in the Rio Grande. ("It was a vivid reminder that we have to secure our border and do it as quickly as possible," he told Roll Call.) Last year, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) traveled to McAllen accompanied by writer (and birther) Jerome Corsi and a film crew from conspiracy website WorldNetDaily. The crew showed up unannounced at a DHS detention center at midnight and was not allowed in.
Still, Walker is smart to get his border-fence photo-op out of the way early—it may not be there much longer. If elected president, real-estate mogul Donald Trump (who has not visited the border) has pledged to personally supervise the construction of a new barrier along the southern border that will permanently end illegal immigration. "A wall," he told Iowa voters last week. "A real wall...not a wall that people walk over."
President Trump's 2020 challengers may have to visit the Canadian border instead.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee thinks questions about Hillary Clinton's emails as secretary of state "will linger" throughout the 2016 presidential race. "If the law said you had to maintain every email for public inspection, that's what you got to do," he recently told ABC News. Huckabee also suggested that the missing emails might shed new light on the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.
Huckabee, who is considering a second run for president himself, is probably right that the issue of secrecy will dog Clinton's campaign going forward. But he might not be the best man to make that case. As Mother Jonesreported in 2011, Huckabee destroyed his administration's state records before leaving office in 2007.
In February, Mother Jones wrote to the office of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe seeking access to a variety of records concerning his predecessor's tenure, including Huckabee's travel records, calendars, call logs, and emails. Beebe's chief legal counsel, Tim Gauger, replied in a letter that "former Governor Huckabee did not leave behind any hard-copies of the types of documents you seek. Moreover, at that time, all of the computers used by former Governor Huckabee and his staff had already been removed from the office and, as we understand it, the hard-drives in those computers had already been 'cleaned' and physically destroyed."
He added, "In short, our office does not possess, does not have access to, and is not the custodian of any of the records you seek."
Huckabee responded at the time by attacking Mother Jones, which he claimed "doesn't pretend to be a real news outlet, but a highly polarized opinion-driven vehicle for all things to the far left." He also called the story "factually challenged." But the Arkansas Department of Information Systems confirmed that the hard drives had been destroyed while he was still in the governor's mansion. Legal? Sure. But absolutely shady.
Even before he destroyed his hard drives rather than grant the public access to his records, Huckabee took a combative approach to public records requests. When Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley (who has also weighed in on Huckabee's transparency record) requested documents from Huckabee in 1995, the then-lieutenant governor flipped out. In a press release issued by his campaign, he attacked Brantley as a "disgruntled and embittered wannabe editor" from a "trashy little tabloid"—and went after Brantley's wife, a Clinton judicial appointee, for good measure. All because the editor filed a request for records every citizen was entitled to.
Dale Bumpers Papers, Special Collections, University of Arkansas
Hillary Clinton's missing emails are a legitimate scandal if you care about government transparency. But many of her loudest critics have done little to inspire confidence they'd do anything differently.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign on Monday at Virginia's Liberty University, a private Christian college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Liberty has become a mandatory stop for aspiring Republican candidates—and it's not just for the campus museum exhibit of the taxidermied bear that Falwell's father once wrestled. Liberty is perhaps the premier academic institution of the religious right, and Cruz's choice of venue sends a clear message that he's trying to position himself in 2016 Republican field as a social conservative crusader—and that he's counting on evangelicals for support.
But Liberty University and its controversial founder have additional significance to the 2016 presidential race. During the 1990s, the anti-gay pastor did more than anyone to popularize the so-called "Clinton Body Count"—the notion that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for dozens of murders during and after their time in Arkansas. This conspiracy theory was the centerpiece of a 1994 film called the Clinton Chronicles, which Falwell helped distribute to hundreds of thousands of conservatives across the country.
Despite Falwell's best efforts, though, President Bill Clinton won his 1996 re-election campaign, and the episode helped reinforce the pastor's reputation as a bigoted crank. Republican candidates will find it hard to avoid Falwell's institution as the 2016 campaign heats up. We'll see if they've learned from his mistakes, too, when it comes to taking on the Clinton political machine.