The Other McCain

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Billion With a ‘B’: Did Menendez Provide Special Favors to HookerGate Donor?

Posted on | February 2, 2013 | 20 Comments

A sex scandal is quite often more than just a sex scandal, and the emerging story of the connection between embattled Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his shady Palm Beach patron, Dr. Salomon Melgen, appears to be developing as a complex scandal:

Sen. Bob Menendez used his influence to advocate for a Dominican Republic business deal that helped a longtime friend and donor whose South Florida office was raided by federal agents this week.
Menendez questioned Obama administration officials at a July hearing about what it was doing to help U.S. businesses that he felt were being unfairly treated by the government of the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries.
One company Menendez was apparently referring to: ICSSI, acquired the year before by Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Palm Beach County eye doctor and friend. The firm was seeking to enforce a contract it had won to X-ray Dominican Republic port cargo, that could be worth $500 million to $1 billion over two decades.

Follow the money — if Melgen had a billion-dollar contract at stake, his “friendship” with Senator Menendez was obviously more than a mere social acquaintance, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it was illegal for Menendez to pressure the administration to help Melgen enforce his Dominican port security contract. But how and why does a Florida opthamologist become an international port-security mogul? The New York Times rather unsubtly raised that point Friday:

Two years ago, Dr. Melgen, despite an apparent lack of experience in border security issues, bought an ownership interest in a company that had a long-dormant contract with the Dominican Republic to provide port security. . . .
The friendship between the two men goes back to the 1990s, when Mr. Menendez, who entered the House of Representatives in 1993, began regularly visiting the Dominican Republic. They spent holidays together, often in the Dominican Republic, where Dr. Melgen has a home in Casa de Campo, a gated oceanfront resort where houses cost as much as $20 million and which has been home to some of the country’s richest residents, like Oscar de la Renta. . . .
Also in 2010, Dr. Melgen moved to buy the ownership interest in ICSSI, a company based in the Caribbean that had been awarded a contract to provide extensive screening of cargo from ports in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican government was refusing to honor that contract, after Miguel Cocco, then the Dominican customs director, had long said the deal was an exorbitant giveaway to the company.

Question: Would just any random investor be interested in a deal like this, or would ICSSI’s “long-dormant contract” be valuable only to someone with enough political “juice” to apply leverage against these Dominican officials?

Did Melgen’s carefully nutured relationship with Menendez therefore give him a special opportunity? The questions multiply and it’s often difficult in such situations to prove that this quid over here is connected to that quo over there by a pro, if you see what I’m saying.

Back during the Lewinsky scandal, remember, the president’s lawyer buddy Vernon Jordan made an extraordinary effort to help Monica get a job with New York-based Revlon (a firm headed by a Clinton donor) and then arranged for Monica to sign an affidavit stating that she couldn’t testify in the Paula Jones lawsuit because, well, she was moving from D.C. to New York for her new job at Revlon.

The blindingly obvious truth is that this was obstruction of justice and suborning of perjury as part of a corrupt effort to deprive Paula Jones of relevant testimony in her civil-rights lawsuit against Clinton, but actually proving the “pro” part of the quid pro quo — helping Monica get this job from a campaign contributor in exchange for having her sign this false affidavit denying a sexual relationship with her presidential boyfriend — was impossible, so long as everybody involved was willing to lie about it, as they most certainly were.

Or think about Watergate: If it hadn’t been for the White House tapes, Nixon might have gotten away with that cover-up, letting some minor figures take the fall for the “Plumbers” operation and using plausible deniability to conceal any direct presidential knowledge.

All of which is to say that turning HookerGate into enough of a scandal to take out a Democrat in heavily-Democratic New Jersey could be rather more difficult than it might seem. However, it doesn’t seem that Obama is willing to invest any political capital to protect Senator Menendez, as Neil Munro reports at the Daily Caller:

White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to defend Sen. Bob Menendez when he was quizzed by a reporter Thursday.
Does “the president have full faith and confidence in the senator?” asked a reporter during the midday White House press conference.
“I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have anything for you on that,” Carney said.
“He plays a significant role in immigration,” the reporter followed up.
“I don’t have anything for you on those reports,” Carney repeated.

Munro reminds us of yet another Menendez scandal:

In December, immigration agents arrested an intern who worked for Menendez’s staff. The Peruvian intern was an illegal immigrant and a convicted child molester, who worked in Menendez’s New Jersey office.
The Associated Press subsequently reported that federal immigration officials delayed any arrest of the man until after Menendez won re-election Nov. 6.
When asked [Thursday] if White House officials knew of agency’s decision to delay the arrest, Carney declined to answer. “I’ve not seen those reports. I don’t have anything for you on that,” he said.

Remember that the HookerGate story first broke on Halloween, six days before Election Day, but it seemed impossible at that time to get anyone to take the story seriously. I remember being frustrated with some of my Republican friends whose response was, “What difference does it make in New Jersey? Menendez is going to win no matter what. We need to concentrate on the presidential campaign.”

Republicans can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? Couldn’t the spectacle of a Democrat senator whore-hopping in the Caribbean have value as a pushback against the ridiculous “war on women” narrative of the campaign? But when you raised that point, Republicans would then tell you, “Well, the liberal media will ignore it anyway” — defeatism, a de facto confession that the entire elaborate messaging apparatus of the Right is utterly useless in overcoming media bias.

No point in hindsight recriminations now, although it’s amusing to see David Graham at The Atlantic attempt to rationalize why the story was indeed ignored by the major media in November:

The story didn’t go anywhere, partly because it was so close to the election and Menendez was already a prohibitive favorite for reelection — he ended up beating his GOP challenger by nearly 20 percentage points — and partly because the Daily Caller has a reputation for wildly overpromising on scoops and then underdelivering on facts. (Remember the video that was going to end Obama’s campaign?) The article suggested there might be dirt, but nothing there that passed a smell test for serious news organizations.

Oh, dear God, where to begin? It took the National Enquirer to break the John Edwards scandal because the “mainstream” press was willing to ignore it, and even the Lewinsky scandal was originally spiked by Newsweek. We therefore have good precedent to expect that, when there is a really juicy scandal involving a Democrat, the story isn’t going to be broken by the mainstream outfits.

Ergo, one cannot dismiss such stories out of hand simply because they originate outside the journalistic mainstream. The fact that there is now an FBI investigation into — and a New York Times article about — the Menendez scandal requires that David Graham make some kind of excuse for having previously ignored a legitimate story, and all those digs at the Daily Caller are just that: Excuses.

You got scooped. You got beat. And the kid that beat you, Matthew Boyle, is still beating you on this story:

Dominican Flights Cost Menendez
Up to 18 Percent of Net Worth

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Menendez’s net worth is between $317,005 and $680,000. . . .
Since the reimbursement he made to his donor Dr. Salomon Melgen’s company totaled $58,500, Menendez spent a massive portion of his financial livelihood on the reimbursement for those two flights. . . .

Menendez Prostitution Scandal: Donor Melgen’s Political
Contributions Exploded After IRS Filed Tax Lien

Ophthalmologist and Democratic political donor Dr. Salomon Melgen may have tried to buy cover from the IRS for the $11.1 million he owes in back taxes from 2006 to present . . .
The donations continued to grow in size and quantity before Melgen began facing tax problems with the IRS in July 2002. The Free Beacon reports that the IRS filed a federal tax lien against Melgen for about $1.3 million then for unpaid taxes dating back to 1999 . . .

Matthew Boyle is still kicking ass and taking names, and The Hill’s Jordy Yager reports there’s blood in the water around Mendendez:

A cloud of scandalous allegations is rapidly growing over Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), putting Democratic leaders in a difficult position as the integrity of their immigration point man in the Senate falls under question at a critical time.
The bad news keeps coming: a Senate Ethics probe, allegations involving underage prostitutes, an FBI investigation of a key campaign donor, undisclosed flights on the donor’s private plane, and now, reports linking Menendez to an existing multi-million dollar contract he urged officials to enforce for the disgraced donor.

Depending on how strongly reporters follow up on the hooker angle, we may be just weeks away from Menendez’s resignation.

And what’s that you say, Jim Treacher? “Why is Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) following a very young-looking Dominican girl on Twitter?

UPDATE (Smitty): Welcome, Instapundit readers!