The first Morning Jolt at the week looks at the persistent evidence of a struggling American economy, wraps up a chaotic and weird Super Bowl, and…
New Jersey Senator Bob ‘John’ Menendez, Still Embattled
Great news, Senator Menendez. Harry Reid has your back.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he has the “utmost confidence” in fellow Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and says he has confidence the New Jersey senator “did nothing wrong” in associating with a prominent political donor who appears to be under investigation by the FBI.
Reid adds: “But that’s what investigations are all about.”
Notice the lack of the traditional, “these allegations are preposterous and laughable, and I see no need to dignify them with a response.”
Reid might as well have said, “I’m pretty sure Bob didn’t know they were underage.”
The editors of the Asbury Park Press are suggesting that their home state senator cannot step into a committee chairmanship he has long coveted until the air is cleared:
The allegations are ugly, and, thus far, unsubstantiated. But there is no doubt that U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has lots of explaining to do. Every passing day seems to bring new details about possible improprieties.
The FBI and the Senate Ethics Committee are investigating charges that Menendez accepted free plane trips from a Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, a friend of the senator’s and a major contributor to his campaigns. Melgen’s offices were raided this week by the FBI.
In addition, claims have been made that Menendez spent time with possibly underage Dominican prostitutes provided by Melgen.
As if these allegations weren’t enough, The New York Times reported Thursday that Melgen, despite an apparent lack of experience in border security issues, bought an ownership interest in a company that had a contract with the Dominican Republic to provide port security. Menendez urged officials in the State and Commerce Departments to intervene so the $500 million contract would be enforced.
Menendez’s imminent promotion to chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee needs to be put on hold until all of the allegations against him have been fully investigated by federal authorities and the ethics committee. If any of them turn out to be true, he should suffer the consequences, whatever they might be.
More great news for Menendez in the Star Ledger:
“Six years is a long time,” said Democratic former Sen. Robert Torricelli, who left the Senate a decade ago under his own ethics cloud. “I think Bob Menendez is a very tenacious person, and he has the advantage of six long years and a fairly forgiving political environment in New Jersey.
“I wouldn’t be wasting time on a Bob Menendez political obituary,” he added.
Ari Fleischer with the line of the weekend: “I don’t know of Sen. Bob Menendez belongs in the Senate, but he definitely belongs on the foreign relations committee.”
Also this morning, the Miami Herald offers another update:
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The shadowy tipster who made explosive allegations involving U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic named names. He gave descriptions of the women, and in some cases, phone numbers and addresses.
Despite those details, the women are nowhere to be found.
A week after the claims made headlines in the United States and on this Caribbean island, the alleged prostitutes have disappeared. An attorney who once represented two of the women said he hadn’t spoken to them in months, and then stopped returning phone calls himself. A two-bedroom apartment where some of the alleged liaisons took place is now vacant. Little remains here beyond hazy memories.
No concrete links have been made between Menendez and any prostitutes. Still, the allegations from the tipster, who identified himself as Peter Williams, were serious enough to launch an FBI probe. And shreds of evidence in Santo Domingo show that, at the very least, the women Williams described exist.