The editorial board of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, dismisses allegations that Senator Bob Menendez frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic as having "all the markings of a dirty trick" because it first emerged just a few days before the election in November. Menendez was re-elected with 58.4 percent of the vote; the last poll taken, before the allegations emerged, had Menendez at 50 percent and his Republican opponent at just 32 percent. Menendez, in fact, won by about the same margin as the Real Clear Politics average of polls showed. I'm not sure any "dirty trick" could've influenced that outcome.
Nevertheless, where there's smoke the Star-Ledger does see fire:
But there is more. Menendez took free rides to the Dominican Republic in 2010 in a private jet owned by a major donor, prominent eye doctor Salomon Melgen. And he kept that gift secret in what seems a certain violation of Senate rules, revealing the trips only last month after critics raised questions about his relationship with Melgen. Menendez has since reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for the flights…
The relationship with Melgen is at the heart of another piece of this scandal as well. According to a report in the New York Times, Menendez used his position on the Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate for Melgen's shady business dealings in the Dominican Republican.
The deal concerns a contract to screen cargo leaving ports in the Dominican Republic. Melgen is no expert on port security, but in 2010 he bought an ownership interest in the firm that had won that contract, worth an estimated $500 million.
Melgen's role seems to have been to provide political grease…
Why, then, did Menendez put pressure on officials at the State Department and Commerce Department over the contract during a hearing? Was he using his position on the Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate for his friend's business interests? Keep in mind, Melgen was not a constituent; he was a money man who had given generously to Menendez.
This is tawdry stuff. For all his talents, Menendez seems to have behaved like a slippery Hudson County pol. We are eager to hear his explanation.
Meanwhile, the Star-Ledger's Paul Mulshine's, a conservative columnist, explains that Menendez, a politician from Hudson County, is in fact like a lot of Hudson County pols:
Last week, Menendez issued a statement denying any contact with prostitutes. That sounds good. But like a lot of Hudson County pols, Menendez does not always have the best memory. When I interviewed him during his first Senate run in 2006, I asked about a rowhouse he owned in the 1980s when he was the mayor of Union City. When he bought it, the rowhouse was zoned residential. But he sold it years later for commercial use at a big profit. When I asked whether he got a variance, Menendez couldn't quite recall.
This time around, the FBI may offer some memory aids.