The controversy surrounding NJ Sen. Bob Menendez began as a sex scandal. The Senator allegedly traveled to the Dominican Republic for sex trysts with prostitutes organized by a major campaign donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen. Further reporting has unveiled more serious allegations, however. It appears that Menendez may have tried to hide gifts from his donor and even used his official position to benefit the donor. With an active FBI investigation underway, Menendez has hired a former DOJ spokesman to assist with his communications strategy.
Menendez’s campaign has hired Matt Miller, a former spokesman for the Justice Department who is very close with Attorney General Eric Holder. The hire is noteworthy, because the Menendez camp has tried to argue that the FBI investigation was focused on Melgen and not the Senator. The FBI has recently indicated that the investigation has moved from Florida to New Jersey, a clear sign that Menendez is a target.
Menendez has tried to dismiss the scandal as “smears,” but hiring Miller is a sign that the investigation is more serious. Dr. Melgen donated $700,000 to a SuperPac that campaigned for Menendez’s reelection last year. In July last year, Menendez pressed a State Department official at a hearing to intervene in a contract dispute that would potentially reap Melgen an enormous profit. The Washington Post also reported that Menendez tried to intervene in a dispute over whether Melgen over-billed Medicare.
Matt Miller is an expert in crisis communications. You don’t hire him unless there is a crisis. That said, it is especially interesting that Menendez has hired an advisor with such close ties to the Agency investigating him. The Menendez saga has quickly moved from a scintillating sex scandal to a more serious case of influence-peddling. Once the curtain on a scandal is drawn, even experts like Miller have a hard time closing them again.