Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is ostensibly seeking anyone having information as to who sought the early release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from a Scottish prison. But a careful examination of some of his past votes and press releases on national-security measures suggest that he is actually seeking political cover for himself and his party, and especially President Obama.
According to the Associated Press, Menendez has publicly asked anyone knowing anything about how the Scots made their decision to release al-Megrahi, or who might have pressured them into it, to call his office. The Scots released al-Megrahi ostensibly on humanitarian grounds, after doctors said publicly that he would likely die of prostate cancer complications within three months. That was a year ago, and he still lives.
Al-Megrahi was convicted for his hand in the downing of Pan American Flight 103, which blew up and fell to earth over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground. Menendez, his colleague Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), and others have asked whether British Petroleum Plc. might have lobbied for al-Megrahi’s release in order to secure drilling leases off the coast of Libya. Scottish authorities have resisted any cooperation with the two senators.
Menendez objected to al-Megrahi’s release at the time. Even before the release, the senator made at least two statements calling on the Libyans to “settle” the “claims” of people who lost love ones on the doomed flight. He said nothing further on the matter until July 7 of this year, when he first wrote to the British ambassador to question him about published suggestions that reports of al-Megrahi’s terminal condition were greatly exaggerated, or even downright fraudulent.
But he has never once questioned whether the White House sought the release or at least tacitly approved it. He has instead directed all his criticism at British and especially Scottish authorities and diplomats. The only criticism he has ever had of American executive officials occurred during the Bush administration, as this Project Vote Smart search result clearly shows.
His voting record on national security is mixed. Most of his votes on the overseas conduct of the war against terror have been consistent with the enhancement of national security. (Votes like this one, an attempt to declare that private telecommunications companies would not be immune from lawsuits if they shared information on terrorists’ telephone calls with appropriate authorities, would be an exception to that consistency.) But on immigration matters he has, at best, shown a blind spot. He has consistently voted against fencing the US-Mexican border or deploying the National Guard on that border, a history that goes clear back to 2006, when he entered the Senate as a replacement for Jon S. Corzine, who became governor of New Jersey in that year.
Commenters on this morning’s AP article appear to recognize Menendez’ problem. Some say scathingly that Menendez is displaying a false concern for the issue to cover his record that, the commenters say, is overly protective of illegal immigrants. But most say that the chief flaw in Menendez’ ostensible investigation is that he ignores the role that the White House must surely have played.
Menendez has, since September 25 of last year, been the target of a campaign to recall him from office, using New Jersey’s Uniform Recall Act. A citizens’ committee seeking his recall is now awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court of New Jersey, essentially on whether they will be allowed to gather recall petition signatures, or not.
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