Take My Wife, Please: For Political Damage Control, Just Blame Your Spouse

It is a tale as old as Adam and Eve: A husband, faced with accusations of misconduct, blames the wife.

It is also a time-honored, bipartisan political strategy. This week, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey pointed ringed fingers at their wives for episodes that have landed each man in political or legal trouble.

“It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito,” Justice Alito, one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members, told The New York Times in explaining an upside-down American flag — a “Stop the Steal” symbol of protest by Donald J. Trump’s supporters — flying on a pole in the family’s front lawn in the days before President Biden’s 2021 inauguration. The justice’s wife, Martha-Ann Alito, was in a feud with neighbors at the time over an anti-Trump sign, The Times reported.

In the case of Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, it was his lawyer who did the finger pointing. On Wednesday, in a federal courtroom in Manhattan, the lawyer, Avi Weitzman, blamed the senator’s wife and her financial troubles for what prosecutors have described as a bribery scheme involving foreign governments and hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts.

“She tried to get cash and assets any which way she could,” Mr. Weitzman told the jury. “She kept him in the dark on what she was asking others to give her.” (Ms. Menendez also faces charges in the case but will be tried separately, after a breast cancer diagnosis. She has pleaded not guilty, and a lawyer representing her declined to comment.)

Casting blame on a spouse for perceived misdeeds may help relieve the immediate pressure on a public official, but it does so, necessarily, by exposing the most intimate of partnerships to scrutiny and scorn.

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