Report: Menendez Intervention May Have Damaged Anti-Cocaine Efforts

If the mainstream media, including both the New York Times and CNN, have seemed more eager than usual to entertain corruption accusations against a powerful Democrat, that may be because new details are emerging that are tough to ignore. The Times, which called upon Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to be relieved of his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, now points to a possible link to anti-cocaine efforts.

In an article appearing in Monday’s edition, Times reporters Eric Lipton and William K. Rashbaum highlight Menendez’s apparent public intervention in July 2012 on behalf of a friend, Dr. Salomon Mengen, who had taken over a contract to provide port security in the Dominican Republic. As documented Feb. 6 by Breitbart News’ Michael Patrick Leahy, Menendez pressed the State Department to protect Mengen’s contract rights.

The Times does not mention the allegations of prostitution that accompanied the story as first broken by Breitbart News’ Matthew Boyle (then with the Daily Caller). Nor does the Times mention the corrupt circumstances in which the port security deal first emerged in 2002, extensively documented by Leahy. It does, however, point to a new concern: that the new port security in the Dominican Republic was meant to screen for cocaine.

As Lipton and Rashbaum note,

the questions about the port security contract are potentially more troubling for Mr. Menendez, who is already facing questions over his fitness for the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship, because the contract [bought by Melgen] involved a foreign policy concern: curbing the flow of cocaine to the United States from the Dominican Republic. 

The drug issue may exacerbate concerns over Menendez's conflict of interest.

The Times story describes how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security donated an X-ray scanner to the Dominican Republic in 2006 in order to help screen shipping containers for cocaine. The equipment was successful in its first week of use, and there was interested in a second scanner. However, Dr. Melgen opposed a new donation, and Menendez’s staff reportedly attempted to prevent one from taking place.

Viewed in the most charitable light, Menendez might have been genuinely concerned that the government of the Dominican Republic could not be trusted to screen for drugs on its own, and that a private contractor could do a better job. And Dr. Melgen might have simply been worried that further donations of equipment would undercut his ability to earn legitimate returns on his investment by providing the equipment himself.

A less charitable approach would raise questions as to whether Dr. Melgen could provide the same level of security as the government of a sovereign state, and why he wanted to ensure that he, and not Dominican Republic officials, would control the equipment. Likewise, a less charitable view of Menendez’s conduct might be that he intended to assist a donor and friend even at the risk of compromising anti-smuggling efforts.

This past weekend, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) offered a less-than-rousing defense of Menendez on NBC’s Meet the Press, referring to an ongoing investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee and declining to comment further beyond noting the New Jersey Senator’s denials. Yet new questions continue to emerge, and the story has escaped far beyond the “right-wing blogs” upon which Menendez once attempted to deflect scrutiny.


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