U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez pressed officials in two federal agencies to intervene on a port security contract in the Dominican Republic that would have netted friend and campaign contributor Salomon Melgen millions, the New York Times reported this morning.
Two years ago, Melgen bought an ownership interest in the company, which holds a dormant port security contract worth $500 million. According to the report, Mendendez pushed The Commerce and State Departments to intervene in order to ensure the contract's enforcement.
Not only is Melgen a heavy campaign donor to Menendez, but the two men have also been paired in reports accusing the two of soliciting underage hookers while in the Dominican Republic. Menendez has vociferously denied the allegation, saying Melgen is a longtime friend, but that any allegations concerning prostitutes are categorically false.
The report is the latest development in what looks to be a burgeoning issue for Menendez. On Tuesday, FBI agents raided Melgen's Palm Beach office hauling away boxes of records. Last week, the conservative Daily Caller reported on a series of emails that implicated Menendez in a scandal involving underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Menendez denied the report, saying Melgen has been a friend for years, but any accusation that the senator had engaged with prostitutes is false.
Later in the week, a Menendez staffer reported the senator had repaid the cost of flights he took on Melgen's private plane, however he didn't pay for two of the three of them until this year, though he flew on the plane in 2010.
Flight records indicate that though Menendez said one of the trips was between Florida and the Dominican, the flight originated in Washington, D.C. before heading to Florida and terminated at Teterboro Airport after a four-day stay in the Dominican Republic. There is no indication that Menendez was on either the flight from Washington or the trip to New Jersey, however Menendez was in D.C. four days eariler for a Senate vote and has taken Melegen's plane at least once from Teterboro.
Menendez's week got a little worse Friday when the Senate Ethics Committee reported it was reviewing whether Menendez accepted inappropriate gifts from Melgen.
"We are aware of the news reports regarding the FBI raid on Dr. Melgen's office," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the top Republican on the ethics committee, said to CBS News in a statement."The Ethics Committee will follow its established procedures in this matter."
The potential scandal comes during a week when Menendez's star was on the ascent. With the approval of Sen. John Kerry as Obama's Secretary of State and Menendez consequently assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Instead, Menendez has been forced to avoid reporters seeking to question him regarding the prostitutes.
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"Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Hudson County Democrat, is balking. He claimed Tuesday that members of his caucus are divided over the measure and that his house is in no real rush – besides, even if enacted this year, the reforms would not take effect until 2017, he said. And with the growing belief that Christie could skip town to run for president, some Democrats are not eager to give him another talking point for his résumé. Christie’s plans to stump for Republican candidates in New Hampshire later Thursday only fuel that suspicion." - columnist Charles Stile- The Bergen Record
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