New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez has repaid donor ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen $58,500 for two flights to the Dominican Republic, NBC News’ Michael Isikoff reported late Wednesday evening.
Isikoff notes Menendez made the payment via check this month after failing to previously report the flights on his Senate financial disclosure form.
“Menendez’s office confirmed that the senator–who this week became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee-wrote the check to Melgen from his personal account after aides reviewed his flight schedule in response to a complaint that a New Jersey Republican official filed with the Senate Ethics Committee last November,” Isikoff wrote. “The complaint alleged that Menendez violated Senate Ethics rules by ‘repeatedly flying on a free jet to the Dominican Republic and other locations’ and that the jet was provided by Melgen.”
Menendez’s chief of staff Dan O’Brien said he’s “chalking it up to an oversight.”
“This was sloppy,” O’Brien said about Menendez’s failure to report the flights.
O’Brien told Isikoff that Menendez generally stays in Melgen’s Dominican Republic villa “about twice a year,” and said the two have been longtime personal friends. He said Menendez also attended Melgen’s daughter’s wedding, and claimed that Menendez normally pays for all the flights out of his own pocket and normally flies commercial.
“All told, the senator took three flights aboard Melgen’s jet in 2010–one of which that May involved a trip to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic for political fundraisers, O’Brien said,” Isikoff reported. “One of those fundraisers was at Melgen’s home in the Dominican Republic, O’Brien said. The May 2010 flight for fundraisers on the two islands was paid for at the time by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez then chaired.”
O’Brien did not indicate if the senator plans to reimburse Melgen for the lodging at his home as well.
Senators are allowed to accept gifts from personal friends under Senate Ethics rules, but anything worth more than $250 must be approved by the Senate Ethics Committee and must be publicly reported.
A Menendez spokeswoman told Isikoff that the senator doesn’t consider the free flights he’s now repaid Melgen for to be gifts and didn’t indicate whether the lodging in the Dominican Republic about twice a year would be considered a gift. Menendez did not seek Senate Ethics Committee approval for the flights or for the lodging in the Dominican Republic.
Isikoff does not mention that Menendez allegedly paid two prostitutes for sex in the Dominican Republic around Easter in 2012. He also does not mention that the FBI is investigating those allegations, according to emails recently released online. In those emails, Special Agent Regino Chavez told a tipster providing information about the allegations of Menendez’s and Melgen’s supposed solicitation of prostitutes that “[w]e know that you are providing accurate information.”
“As far as the information you have provided, we have been able to confirm most of it,” Chavez wrote via his FBI email account to the tipster on September 12 while requesting an in-person meeting.
Menendez denies soliciting prostitutes. “Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Senator Menendez for many years,” Menendez’s office said in a Wednesday statement. “Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false.”
Menendez’s office omitted the fact that the senator repaid Melgen for the flights in question just this month, something his spokeswoman told Isikoff “was never [intended] to be misleading.”
When reporting that statement from Menendez’s office, Isikoff cut off the last sentence entirely–the part that mentions the senator’s office’s denial of the prostitution allegations.
Isikoff also quoted Menendez’s aides as saying they conducted an “exhaustive review of Menendez’s schedule,” something his office has not publicly released. Spokeswoman Tricia Enright has not answered when Breitbart News asked if the Senator’s plans to show the public that “exhaustive review.”
When this reporter first broke this story while reporting for The Daily Caller before joining Breitbart News, now former-National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) executive director Rob Jesmer called on Menendez to release all his travel records. Jesmer said the allegations against Menendez were “very serious and deserve examination.”
“Fortunately, there is a simple way for Senator Menendez to begin addressing these questions, and that is by releasing his schedule and travel records related to Easter Week of this year, as well as the other dates in question,” Jesmer said.