Clout: Wagner makes a special friend

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon (Carolyn Kaster/AP) apparently bonded with Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner (Michael Pronzato/Staff) in St. Louis.

Political alliances are usually formed in smoky backrooms, so credit State Sen. Scott Wagner for getting creative.

The York County Republican gubernatorial candidate chartered a weekend flight from Baltimore to St. Louis, where he was slated to appear at a hotel gathering of conservatives, the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles.

Wagner invited none other than Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist for President Trump, and the sole practitioner of the art of wearing multiple dress shirts at once to catch a ride on his plane.

And boy, did those two hit it off.

“I was pretty emboldened before, but I can tell you right now I’m like 500 percent more emboldened,” Wagner told the crowd at the hotel after he described his two-hour airborne discussion with Bannon, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bannon gave Wagner the verbal equivalent of a fist bump, telling the attendees that they were going to start taking the country back “in November when Scott Wagner runs in Pennsylvania.”

It didn’t take long for Gov. Wolf’s campaign to seize on the Wagner-Bannon bromance, encouraging supporters to contribute donations to show that “Pennsylvania won’t tolerate candidates who pal around with racists like Bannon.”

Wagner seemed unfazed by the blowback during an interview earlier this week on Dom Giordano’s radio show. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Giordano said, was framing Bannon’s words as an endorsement “by the leader of America’s alt-right movement.”

“I love it,” Wagner replied. “The good news is they at least spelled my name right, and they spelled Steve Bannon’s name right.” (That clip, of course, was shopped around by the Democratic Party.)

 

O Brother, Where Art Bob?

“Is you is or is you ain’t my constituency?”

That question, courtesy of Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother Where Art Thou, is being debated in federal court in Newark as  Sen. Bob Menendez fights for his political career and freedom.

Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, is accused of selling his influence to a wealthy eye doctor in exchange for gifts and campaign contributions.

And not just any eye doctor. This ophthalmologist, Salomon Melgen, lives in West Palm Beach, Fla.

But could he still be considered Menendez’s constituent? When the issue came up during opening arguments earlier this month, U.S. District Judge William H. Walls ordered the prosecution and defense to file briefs explaining their definitions of the word.

Prosecutor Peter Koski told jurors Menendez went to great lengths to advance Melgen’s personal and financial interests — all to “enrich one man who didn’t even live in the state that Sen. Menendez was elected to represent.”

The suggestion was that Menendez’s behavior was consistent with bribery. “Senator Menendez’s constituents are the New Jerseyans that he was elected to represent in the United States Senate,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week. They cited definitions in Black’s Law Dictionary of constituent: “[s]omeone who is represented by a legislator or other elected official”; and constituency: “[t]he body of citizens dwelling in a defined area and entitled to elect a representative.”

Camera icon Patti Sapone
U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez arrives at the federal courthouse in Newark.  (Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
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Defense attorneys noted that the word constituent isn’t mentioned in the Constitution or in the laws their clients allegedly violated. The defense offered a broader understanding of the word and argued it should account for how Menendez  understood his job, which included advocating for “ethnic constituencies” — especially Hispanic Americans — and “issue constituencies,” like immigration, “whose members are not limited to New Jersey residents.”

The senator also has a “political constituency,” defense attorneys argued, saying “over half of the itemized contributions to” his 2012 reelection campaign came from out-of-state residents.

Menendez’s legal team said jurors — not the judge — should be the ones to decide the meaning and significance of constituent, “because the word potentially bears on Defendants’ states of mind.” Of course, Clout wonders how closely the judge followed last year’s trial of two former aides to Gov. Christie as part of the Bridgegate scandal. For the Republican governor’s top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a key prosecution witness testified, there was only “one constituent”: Christie.

Chuck tackles the NFL

Allow us to apologize if you’d hoped to make it through today without learning that yet another elected official wants everyone to know that he Has Some Thoughts about NFL players silently protesting during the national anthem.

State Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, a Republican from Bucks County, took to Twitter earlier this week to announce that he’d taken the bold, possibly paradigm-shifting step of cosponsoring a resolution to condemn the entire league for the ongoing pregame demonstrations.

McIlhinney singled out the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular for scorn, because the team didn’t take the field at all during the anthem on Sunday, with the exception of offensive lineman Alejandro Villaneuva, a former Army ranger.

“[E]ngaging in such a divisive act only makes it that much harder to bring people together to achieve the goal of freedom and liberty for all,” reads one line of the resolution.

Now look, Clout hates the Steelers just as much as the next guy, but we still have a hard time understanding how some pols can speechify about the sacred importance of freedom and liberty in one breath, and then condemn a bunch of athletes for silently and peacefully exercising their right to protest in the next.

But at least McIlhinney didn’t go off the deep end like noted former “weather presenter” John Bolaris. “All this national anthem stuff is freaking B*******, make something happen fake crap salute & respect all who have sacrificed & Luv USA,” J-Bo wrote in a string of mostly incomprehensible tweets.

In fairness, Bolaris does have a history of getting punched in the face.

Everybody, take it easy this weekend.

Staff writers David Gambacorta and Andrew Seidman contributed to this report.