When Tom Kean, Jr.’s 2006 campaign for the U.S. Senate ended in defeat, my liberal friends, as usual, mocked me. I told my freshman English teacher, who was no fan of Bush, that Sen. Menendez was dirty, and he would get embroiled in something that would force him to resign. She disagreed.
I’ve waited seven long years, and I finally turned out to be right. He hasn’t resigned, but the gentleman from New Jersey is halfway there. On top of the Dominican prostitution allegation, he’s being accused of intervening in a Medicare billing incident with the doctor whose planes Menendez used for his alleged sexual visits in the Caribbean.
Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and Amanda Becker wrote on February 7 that the senator’s alleged felonious activities aren’t going away.
A slow drip of national news reports about the New Jersey Democrat and his ties to Florida ophthalmologist and political donor Salomon Melgen have put his office on the defensive over an assortment of issues including a port contract in the Dominican Republic and a possible intervention in a Medicare billing dispute involving the doctor.
Menendez tried to move forward with his normal agenda Thursday, holding a morning roundtable discussion with Hispanic media outlets about immigration through the Senate Democratic Hispanic Task Force, of which he is chairman.
Even there, however, Menendez was pulled off-topic and denied he exerted improper influence to help Melgen in the Medicare dispute.
“The bottom line is we raised concerns with [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] over policy and over ambiguities that are difficult for medical providers to understand and to seek a clarification of that,” Menendez said, according to ABC News and Univision.
Still, the story is creating fodder for Republican campaign operatives; both the outgoing and incoming spokesmen for the National Republican Senatorial Committee have mentioned the Menendez matter on Twitter in recent days.
According to The Washington Post, Menendez brought up a government inquiry into Melgen’s billing practices with senior officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, including the agency’s acting administrator. That raises the question of whether Menendez went beyond normal constituent service.
The New York Times editorial board, citing the Post, added yesterday that:
Mr. Menendez personally raised concerns with top federal health officials in 2009 and again in 2012 about the fairness of their finding that Dr. Melgen had overbilled the government $8.9 million for care provided at his eye clinic. The Post also reported that Dr. Melgen invoked the senator’s name repeatedly to exert pressure on federal fraud investigators. Last week, F.B.I. agents raided Dr. Melgen’s offices in West Palm Beach and removed 30 boxes of documents and other material, but the focus of the inquiry is unclear.
The relationship between Mr. Menendez and Dr. Melgen was drawn into the spotlight following recent reports that Mr. Menendez had accepted two round-trip flights aboard Dr. Melgen’s jet for personal vacations in the Dominican Republic in 2010. In January, Mr. Menendez sent Dr. Melgen a check for $58,500 to reimburse the cost of the flights, which he had failed to report as gifts at the time or reimburse, as required.
It appears Mr. Menendez has learned little from his own previous ethics issues or from the fall of a former New Jersey senator, Robert Torricelli, who decided not to run for re-election in 2002 amid allegations that he had inappropriately aided a big donor and accepted expensive gifts.
The senator’s efforts to help Dr. Melgen, part-owner of a firm that had a long-dormant contract with the Dominican Republic to provide port security, revive that lucrative contract — deemed an exorbitant giveaway by business leaders and government officials there — were detailed in an article in The Times last week by Raymond Hernandez and Frances Robles. The contract’s dubious legitimacy and Dr. Melgen’s lack of experience in border security issues did not deter Mr. Menendez from pressing State and Commerce Department officials to insist that the contract be honored, including at a hearing in July of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee over which he presided.
Compounding the unseemliness, Senator Menendez’s help came as Dr. Melgen was in the process of making donations totaling $700,000 to Majority PAC, a Democratic “super PAC” set up by former aides to Mr. Reid. Majority PAC ended up shoveling $582,500 to Mr. Menendez’s 2012 re-election campaign.
As a result of this developing saga of corruption coming from New Jersey, the Times noted that Sen. Harry Reid should remove Menendez as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he ascended to via seniority, as John Kerry became Secretary of State. However, Reid isn’t going in that direction.
While this is a new development, Senator Menendez is also battling a months-old allegation of soliciting prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic. However, when underage girls are involved, it’s a different story. However, the women, who made these allegations, have disappeared. However, as Politico’s Ginger Gibson and John Bresnahan wrote on February 3 asking whether Sen. Menendez could survive the snowball effect stemming from these ethics charges:
if the allegations that the women were underage prove to be true, that could be too much for Menendez — and the larger Senate Democratic Caucus — to accept and he could be forced to step down. Under U.S. law, it is illegal for an American citizen to have “commercial sex” with anyone younger than 18 while traveling in a foreign country.
Regardless, hard times are expected to fall on Sen. Menendez, as his political career appears to be heading for rocky shoals.