We’ve all heard of the alleged debauchery surrounding Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), which involves underage Dominican prostitutes. The senator from New Jersey has taken a flew flights down to the Dominican Republic, and had some fun. Now, while prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic, underage prostitution is illegal virtually everywhere. Thus, the plot thickens, and if these allegations turn out to be true, which wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest (I grew up in Jersey, it’s dirty) – then Republicans may be able to finagle a way to reclaim a senate seat in the Garden State for the first time since 1972.
Yes, it may very well be a pipe dream, and this whole fiasco could turn out to be nothing, but what if it isn’t? Salon.com’s Steve Kornacki, who also co-hosts MSNBC’s The Cycle, wrote yesterday about this debacle.
It’s hard to say exactly how much trouble that state’s junior senator, Bob Menendez, may be in, or if he’s in any trouble at all. Certainly, though, the headlines are alarming, and the existence of an FBI investigation has got to be concerning to Democrats, who know that any scandal that forces Menendez from the Senate would empower Gov. Chris Christie to appoint a Republican successor.
What’s known now is that the FBI on Monday raided the office of a Florida eye doctor who is one of Menendez’s top campaign donors, and with whom the senator has socialized over the years. The eye doctor, Saloman Melgen, has an outstanding tax lien of over $11 million, and as the Miami Herald reported, the presence of an investigator from the Department of Health and Human Services also suggested potential Medicare fraud.
But more recently, what appear to be emails between an FBI agent and an anonymous man who identifies himself as “Pete Williams” have emerged online, with Williams supposedly providing the agent with evidence that Menendez engaged in sex with an underage prostitute in 2009. The emails suggest the agent contacted Williams after being tipped off by an ethics watchdog group in Washington – Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which has confirmed that Williams shared his allegations with them and that they forwarded them to the FBI.
The FBI won’t say precisely what it is investigating or what it was looking for at Melgen’s office, and Menendez insists that his relationship with the donor has always been aboveboard and that the allegations of prostitution use are a politically motivated smear. Also, CREW’s executive director told the Star-Ledger that she had doubts about Williams’ credibility when he presented her with his allegations.
However, it goes a little bit deeper than that. Matthew Boyle at Breitbart obtained emails, which showed that the FBI was planning to fly the source in from the Dominican Republic to assist in the investigation.
“I think we need to deal with this situation as soon as possible and I think we need to do this together,” FBI special agent Regino Chavez wrote to the man using the name Peter Williams on January 22nd. “I believe that the best thing for you to do is to meet with me away from the Dominican Republic in a location where you can feel safe.”
Chavez proceeded to detail how the source may be worried about being followed or retaliated against in some way for talking to federal investigators.
“I can make arrangements for you to fly to Miami, Florida, so that we can meet in a place where you don’t have to worry about being watched or followed,” Chavez wrote. “We will pay for your air plane fare, your lodging, and incidentals, so that you don’t have to worry abut incurring expenses. We can make these arrangement [sic] fairly quickly so let me know as soon as you can.”
Williams added that he’s “certain” that “sooner or later, Menendez and [Salomon] Melgen will face justice.”
A week after Special Agent Chavez’s January 22nd email, the FBI raided the Miami offices of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Democratic donor reportedly connected to Menendez’s alleged solicitation of prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.
However, what about the flights Sen. Menendez took to the Dominican Republic on Dr. Melgen’s plane? Citizens for Reform and Ethics In Washington (CREW), which has George Soros ties, said that Sen. Menendez, “violated ethics rules by taking two free trips on a friend’s plane in 2010 but that he may avoid prosecution nonetheless because he paid the charter rate of $58,500 for the trips last month. What he did was he waited to get caught and then he paid for it,” Melanie Sloan, executive director of [CREW], said about Menendez’s decision to pay Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon and Democratic donor, for two flights to the Dominican Republic. “He did violate the rules.”
If the allegations about Menendez’s trysts with underage girls turns out to be true, then, as Kornacki puts it:
[T]he worst case scenario for Menendez, he’d be forced to resign sometime in the coming months. The precise date would be important. New Jersey election law is maddeningly vague and complex, but the bottom line is that Christie would be empowered to appoint an immediate successor and would have considerable latitude in choosing the special election date. He could, for instance, opt to hold a stand-alone Senate special election this summer, in addition to the regularly scheduled statewide election this fall – an election that will feature Christie as the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Or he could schedule the Senate special to coincide with the gubernatorial race. Or, if a Menendez resignation were to occur within 70 days of this November’s election, Christie would have the option of holding a stand-alone special Senate election sometime after November, or waiting until the regularly scheduled 2014 general election.
I agree with Kornacki that Sen. Lautenberg’s pending retirement in 2014 will make Corey Booker seem less likely to take on the would-be Republican appointee in 2013. However, unlike the progressive trash that’s published on Salon.com, I have to say there was nothing particularly egregious about his column. In fact, he recognized that New Jersey could be a thorn in the Democrats’ side with this circus, which liberals would be apt to ignore. With a number of vulnerable Democrats in Republican-leaning states, the 2014 midterms could be a very good year. The new push to ban assault weapons has surely placed pressure on Democrats up for re-election. A Republican plausibly taking Menendez’s seat would be a nice morale booster, albeit from an unexpected place.
Kornacki said that a possible replace could be NY Jets owner Woody Johnson. As The Auditor/Star-Ledger posted in February of 2011,
[T]he Jets owner dined with Gov. Chris Christie and likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when they had their confab at Drumthwacket…the Auditor is told Johnson, a major donor to Republicans, was there as a Romney supporter. But Johnson — full name Robert Wood Johnson IV — has been talked up lately as a potential challenger to Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in 2012. Johnson has two things that the Republicans, who have not won a Senate race in New Jersey since 1972, would love: ready-made name recognition and lots of money. Johnson could not be reached for comment, and it’s unclear if he’s interested in running for Senate.But Republicans say if he is, he’s a very serious candidate.
Yes, that was two years ago, but Christie may tap him if Menendez drowns in this scandal. It would be smarter to run Johnson in a special election, than Geraldo Rivera. In fact, let’s just say that any mentioning of Rivera as a possible replacement is asinine, and would diminish the Office of The Governor of NJ for even thinking of doing so.