Bob Menendez’s Very Bad Week

Senator Menendez's cozy relationship with top donor Salomon Melgen has turned a banner week upside-down.

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Bill Clark / Roll Call / Getty Images

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during the Senate Democrats' press conference on the extension of the Bush tax cuts on Friday, Dec. 3, 2010.

This was supposed to be a banner week for New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez. The New Jersey Democrat, who was reelected to a second term in November, became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a relatively meteoric rise considering it took his predecessor, John Kerry, 24 years to work his way up to the gavel. Instead of celebrating, Menendez has spent the week alternately ducking the press and angrily lashing out at “nameless, faceless” accusers. The heart of his problem is his relationship with one of his top donors, Salomon Melgen, a 58-year-old eye surgeon who moved to Florida from the Dominican Republic in 1980.

The relationship between a politician and his top donor is often a tricky one. Melgen and his family have given Menendez, and groups working to help elect Menendez, more than $750,000 in the last two election cycles. It’s easy to paint a picture of favoritism and patronage — and to a certain degree that’s expected: donors aren’t giving all that money expecting nothing in return. It’s when that relationship crosses the line that it gets dangerous. And Menendez has admitted to crossing at least one Senate ethics line with Melgen thus far: he neglected to reimburse Melgen for two trips on his private jet to the Dominican Republic in 2010, an “oversight” that Menendez rectified last week. But after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Melgen’s Florida practice this week, other questions have surfaced. Though Menendez has distanced himself from Melgen, the Senate Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into several of their ties.

(MORE: Goodbye John Kerry, Hello Bob Menendez)

The charges against Melgen, who has proclaimed his innocence, are serious. He’s being investigated for more than $8 million in Medicare fraud for claiming up to four times the usual worth of a vial of eye medication. Melgen has paid that money back to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid but is looking to reclaim it as he says that he abided by the guidelines. Still, a CMS agent participated in the FBI raid last week, so clearly there are Medicare issues that remain unresolved. Menendez twice in 2009 and 2012 called CMS about Melgen’s case, though Menendez’s office says he was expressing concerns that CMS guidelines were not clear and led to misunderstandings – not lobbying or pressuring the agency on Melgen’s behalf.

Meanwhile, Menendez encouraged Melgen to partner with a former staffer of his, Pedro Pablo Permuy, to buy into a U.S. security company that held a contract to screen cargo coming in from Dominican ports, according to the New York Times. Some business interests have questioned the contract, worth $500 million, in part because of Melgen’s lack of port security experience. In his capacity at the time as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Menendez pushed the Dominican government to honor the contract and enforce the deal.

Menendez has admitted to taking several trips to Melgen’s home in the Dominican Republic, often on Melgen’s jet. It came out last week that Menendez did not reimburse Melgen for two of those flights, as required under Senate rules, and Menendez rectified the “oversight,” reimbursing Melgen $58,000 for the flights – a hefty sum for someone who’s net worth in 2011 was between $267,000 and $580,000, according to Senate financial disclosure forms.

Adding salt to Menendez’s wounds, he’s also had to face some embarrassing press. A story in the Miami Herald detailed how Melgen often bragged about his cozy relationship with Menendez and used the senator’s name to threaten rivals with IRS audits and Medicare investigations (ironically, Melgen himself was not only under investigation for Medicare fraud but records show he owes the IRS $10 million in back taxes).

Is this the end of Bob Menendez’s political career? So far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is standing behind him and he has not been named the target of any investigations. If he hasn’t broken any laws the only thing he really need worry about are the voters in New Jersey – a state not exactly known for its puritanical ethical standards. In the meantime, as long as the investigation into Melgen drags out, Menendez better grow thicker skin. There’s already a Twitter feed entitled “MenendezMustGo” mocking him. And, as Helio Rodriguez-Ecay of Miami snarkily wrote in a Miami Herald letter to the editor, “Menendez has [the] perfect job title.” “I think he should stay,” said Rodriguez-Ecay. “Just because his title could not be more descriptive: Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.”

33 comments
paulejb
paulejb

Has Senator Menendez resigned yet? 

LenSimpson
LenSimpson

So !  What else is new?     normal foggy bottom behavior.

reallife
reallife

chairman of the Senate "Foreign Relations" Committee

I guess Mr Menendez took his title very seriously 

Can't make this stuff up

LOL

 

ilikechips
ilikechips

LOL JNS..entire article about Menendez's bad week and you fail to mention in the article about his little problem with underage prostitutes. Just like the rest of the liberal lame stream media. If it's a Dem and it's bad news..bury it..nothing to see here..move along. If this had been someone with a R after their name the liberal circle jerks here would be calling for his head.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Pedro Pablo Permuy

picked a peck of pickled peppers....



MrObvious
MrObvious

Note - some are worried about his unethical ties to something that truly can have disastrous effect on us all (like taking money from someone and push through legislation that is detrimental to a majority citizens).


Others go for the low hanging fruit and hark on about 'prostitution'.  Kind of like being mad about 'BENGHAZI' without wanting a solution but indifferent about vague reasoning for current admins drone policy.

Note that this selective moral outrage is against specific party only. Same moral behavior within their own tribe gets a shrug.

ErikKengaard
ErikKengaard

"a state not exactly known for its puritanical ethical standards" Definitely!

paulejb
paulejb

I am sure there will be a government position open for Bobby with the Obama regime if he is forced to resign from the Senate. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic?

MrObvious
MrObvious

Seems like he should step down. The whole 'Ops I got caught so now I will fix the problem' is just a spit in the eye of people with common sense. Money needs to get our of politics. 750k from one person is a lot of incentive to provide special attention to just one single person.

gysgt213
gysgt213

Money and power and nice.  Both will get you in trouble if you are not careful.  

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Jay ...and also kudos for NOT addressing the unsubstantiated prostitution charges brought by the Daily Caller. Naturally, I bring that up, but only to thwart future comments by our usual rightie trolls. There are plenty of proven past scandals from Abrahamoff to the bedroom / bathroom trysts of Vitter, Sanford, and Craig (all Republicans, BTW. Coincidence?).


http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2013/02/07/sen-robert-menendez-and-the-mainstream-media-malfeasance/

MrObvious
MrObvious

@ilikechips 

Underage is bad if it's true - note that JNS reported on important VERIFIED information instead of what amounts to rumors. Besides - don't you find legal bribery abhorrent? 

gysgt213
gysgt213

@paulejb  Hey, what party are you going to join now? One high-profile Republican strategist, who refused to be named in order to avoid inflaming the very segments of the party he wants to silence, said there is a deliberate effort by party leaders to “marginalize the cranks, haters and bigots — there’s a lot of underbrush that has to be cleaned out.”

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

As I said yesterday, I'm sure you're spending a whole lotta time trying to draw up treason charges on Scooter Libby.

bobell
bobell

How about Ambassador to West Miami?

sacredh
sacredh

"750k from one person is a lot of incentive to provide special attention to just one single person."

.

Adleson would disagree.

MrObvious
MrObvious

To add, if you gave that amount of money to a police department it would be considered bribery, give it to a congress critter and it's 'addressing grievances'. Legal bribery is a blight on functional democracies.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@deconstructiva I disagree. I think that pointing out that the Daily Caller has absolutely no ethics or standards SHOULD be part of any coverage of this story. It's time that responsible journalists stood up for responsibility among their own.


ilikechips
ilikechips

@MrObvious @ilikechips Ha! Ha! Ha! you mean like the 99 stories in 9 days on unsubstantiated claims against Herman Cain.  the hypocrisy and double standard is astounding and brazen.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@PaulDirks @deconstructiva 

You assume that you journalists should aknowledge that political smut like Daily Caller can be called something related to our 4th estate. If our 4th estate is the dinner of our information world, then daily caller is the system that transport the raw material to it's end point. What comes out of a place like that is nothing but shit.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

@PaulDirks That topic (lack of ethics / standards) can be explored on its own demerits, and should be analyzed in depth, but too often isn't in the MSM. We certainly complain about it.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@PaulDirks @MrObvious @deconstructiva 

The best real media can do is to rely on investigative sources rather then rumor mills like Daily Caller. It's better to treat them as 'the thing that shall not be named' rather then a credible news source. 

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@MrObvious @PaulDirks @deconstructiva But the people who rely on it (and we all know several) never get any pushback for their erroneous beliefs except from folks like us. It's time for a little "self-policing' higher up the food chain.