Senator Bob Menendez, port security expert

Television reporters are furiously ignoring the expanding Bob Menendez scandal, to a degree not seen since the phrase “Operation Fast and Furious” made every reporter in earshot commence an intensive study of his own shoelaces.  But the New York Times – which, under other circumstances, is generally seen as setting the agenda for the rest of the liberal media – has grown mighty curious about that big Dominican port-security deal undertaken by Menendez bestie Dr. Salomon Melgen.  The Times reviews Melgen’s investment strategy:

In February 2006, just as Mr. Menendez was beginning his push to require screening of all ship containers headed to the United States, Dr. Melgen began negotiations to buy a small company that had a longstanding contract to do such inspections in the Dominican Republic.

His plan was to provide his own X-ray equipment, purchased with private funds, and then charge the Dominican government to do the inspections.

But customs officials in the Dominican Republic have halted the deal, saying Dr. Melgen???s company would charge too much for a service that the government itself should be providing.

That’s where Melgen’s good buddy Bob Menendez – a student of not only the Dominican Republic’s overseas trade, but also the livelier quarters of its domestic service industry – came in:

Mr. Menendez pushed State and Commerce Department officials last July to help eliminate the roadblocks in the Dominican Republic preventing the start of this contract, The Times reported late last month.

But representatives for Dr. Melgen confirmed late last week that these appeals to the United States government went well beyond that.

Late last year, Pedro Pablo Permuy, a former national security adviser to Mr. Menendez, contacted the State Department to set up a meeting with a top department official, Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd D. Roberson, who helps oversee an antinarcotics division, according to a statement that Boarder Support Services, Dr. Melgen???s company, released in response to questions.

Dr. Melgen, at that meeting, informed the department that his company had in place a legally binding contract to provide X-ray inspection services at ports in the Dominican Republic and sought the department???s assistance in persuading the Dominican government to enforce the contract, the statement said.

But a federal government official said Dr. Melgen also made it clear that he was worried that the United States donation of equipment would undercut his business proposal, mirroring the concerns Mr. Menendez???s aide subsequently raised in the e-mail. The company???s statement acknowledged that the United States government???s plans to donate the equipment came up at the meeting, but it said that neither Dr. Melgen nor Mr. Permuy could recall exactly what was said about it.

A Menendez aide said the Senator “questions the commitment of the government of the Dominican Republic to stem the flow of drugs through its ports.”  In other words, if the U.S. government simply gave them their own security equipment, they’d take payola from drug lords and arrange for their shipments to slip right past the new equipment.  Presumably Melgen’s expensive private operation would be immune from corruption, even if it emanated from the very government that paid their salaries.

The Times also quoted a State Department official who “suggested that the budget deficit in the United States may have been a factor, resulting in a curb in foreign aid.”  Really?  When did that happen?  Because just a couple of months ago, fact-checker site Politifact was giving Obama a “partially broken promise” slap on the wrist for failing to keep his promise to double foreign aid… but it still went up substantially, year after year, averaging out to roughly a 23 percent increase over the past four years.

The State Department didn’t have much else to say, because the Senate Ethics committee is conducting an investigation into Menendez’ activities on behalf of Melgen.  Then there are the nagging questions about what he did with his down time in the Dominican Republic…