In January, Judicial Watch announced that Senator Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) had made its list of Washington’s “Ten Most Corrupt” politicians for 2012. And what were the senator’s transgressions?
You can read his entry for yourself, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Senator Menendez was previously investigated for steering lobbying business to his former chief of staff (and girlfriend); he helped sneak an $8 million earmark for a public walkway and park that benefitted campaign donors and a former senior aide; and then late last year he was alleged to have patronized under-aged prostitutes and to have employed an illegal alien sex offender on his staff.
So is he a deserving member of our Ten Most Wanted? You bet. And that was BEFORE news hit last week of yet another influence peddling scandal (related to, of course, the sex scandal) involving the beleaguered New Jersey Democrat.
The Washington Post details the story:
Sen. Robert Menendez raised concerns with top federal health-care officials twice in recent years about their finding that a Florida eye doctor — a close friend and major campaign donor — had overbilled the government by $8.9 million for care at his clinic, Menendez aides said Wednesday.
Menendez (D-N.J.) initially contacted federal officials in 2009 about the government’s audit of Salomon Melgen, complaining to the director overseeing Medicare payments that it was unfair to penalize the doctor because the billing rules were ambiguous, the aides said.
According to the Post, these are far from fresh allegations against Melgen. He has been under investigation by federal authorities and health care auditors multiple times over the last decade for allegations involving health care fraud.
(For a detailed account of how Melgen allegedly cheated the system, check out this New York Times summary, which tells the story in great detail.)
Of course Menendez claims he knew nothing about the controversy swirling around “his friend and political supporter” until Melgen’s office and home were raided by authorities earlier this month – a claim that is nearly impossible to believe considering their close connection and Menendez’s history.
Overall, the Post notes, Melgen donated $700,000 to Menendez’s campaign and to other Democrat candidates – and that was just last year alone.
It appears Melgen’s generosity was not limited to cash contributions. The Senate Ethics Committee is investigating two trips Menendez took on the doctor’s private jet to his “seaside mansion” in the Dominican Republic. Menendez has already admitted he did not properly disclose these trips on his Senate Financial Disclosure forms and was forced to reimburse Melgen $58,500. (Menendez “came clean” only after the New Jersey Republican Party had filed a complaint, calling attention to the trips.)
It certainly appears this was a clear quid pro quo. Melgen filled Menendez’s coffers and courted his support during expensive first class trips to the Dominican Republic and Menendez tried to help him out of a health care fraud scandal in return. And it will come as no surprise to students of Clinton corruption that Melgen is close to the Clinton machine.
But there is more to this story.
According to The New York Times Menendez also lobbied federal officials in yet another situation that would have benefitted Melgen financially. “Two years ago, Dr. Melgen bought an ownership interest in a company that had a long-dormant contract with the Dominican Republic to provide port security. Mr. Menendez, who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that holds sway over the Dominican Republic, subsequently urged officials in the State and Commerce Departments to intervene so the contract would be enforced, at an estimated value of $500 million.”
The Times also reports that “A top executive at Dr. Melgen’s security company will be Pedro Pablo Permuy, a former national security adviser and senior legislative aide to Mr. Menendez.”
The more threads you pull on all of this, the worse it looks for Menendez.
As it stands, Menendez claims he’s squeaky clean, the victim of “right wing bloggers.” (Will liberals ever let go of the “vast right wing conspiracy” claim?) But we are beginning to see cracks in the foundation of support among Democrats as well. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) offered support for Menendez in public statements – but they were tepid at best: “I have confidence he did nothing wrong, but that’s what investigations are all about,” said Reid.
By the way, the Menendez scandal was not broken by the Big Media or by federal investigators: it all got rolling because of reporting by a young investigative journalist, Matthew Boyle, who now writes for Breitbart.com and talked about this story at a Judicial Watch panel discussion earlier this year. I’m also proud to say that Matt is one of the stars of Judicial Watch’s movie The District of Corruption, which will be widely available later this year.
In the meantime, Senator Menendez continues to take the lead on developing amnesty legislation for President Obama. This helps place into context why our system is so broken. Our nation’s top legislators are corrupt, and yet they seek to take the lead on key rule of law issues, such as immigration. Our republican form of government is harmed when we have lawbreakers writing our laws.