Today’s New York Times reported the following about Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the Senate’s only Latino Democrat and the new chair of the Foreign Relations Committee:
Senator Robert Menendez sought to discourage any plan by the United States government to donate port security equipment to the Dominican Republic, citing concern that the advanced screening gear might undermine efforts by a private company — run by a major campaign contributor and friend of his — to do the work.
The intervention with the Department of Homeland Security last month came even though Mr. Menendez has publicly chastised the Obama administration for not doing more to combat the surging drug traffic moving through Dominican ports
And it came shortly after the senator’s friend, Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, arranged to meet with a senior State Department official, accompanied by a former aide to Mr. Menendez, in a related push to protect the port security contract, which is worth as much as $500 million over 20 years.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department declined to comment on the matter, with a State Department official citing an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee into related matters.
The latest news raises serious issues about Menendez’s chairmanship of the Senate’s top foreign policy committee. As The Times’ report states: “But the questions about the port security contract are potentially more troubling for Mr. Menendez, who is already facing questions over his fitness for the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship, because the contract involved a foreign policy concern: curbing the flow of cocaine to the United States from the Dominican Republic.” The Times also included a detailed timeline chronicling the issues behind the Dominican port security contract. An original version of this timeline was first reported by Michael Patrick Leahy of Breitbart.
On February 8, the Times’ editorial board wrote that Menendez should temporarily step down as head of the Foreign Relations Committee until a full investigation is completed. This is the opening paragraph of “Mr. Menendez’s Ethics Problem:”
Senator Robert Menendez was never a distinguished choice for chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the position he ascended to this month by virtue of seniority. Concerns about that quality gap have sharply escalated amid new disclosures about Mr. Menendez’s use of his position to advance the financial interests of a friend and big donor. Instead of trying to protect Mr. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, needs to remove his gavel, at least pending credible resolution by the Senate Ethics Committee of the swirling accusations of misconduct.
This is the second big development about Menendez reported by a mainstream media outlet in the past seven days. Last week, The Washington Post wrote about Menendez’s involvement in a Medicare fraud cause against Melgen. Menendez denied helping Melgen in a recent interview with Telemundo. While some Hispanic media coalitions suggest that the allegations are all part of a right-wing smear campaign, the two latest developments surrounding this story have been reported by two of the country’s most respected news outlets.
Yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said the following: “Senator Menendez has given us an assurance that there is no substance to these charges. It’s being looked at by the ethics committee, and of course I can’t comment beyond that.”