Senator Menendez faces grand jury probe

In the past, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and apologists like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to dismiss Menendez’ troubles as scurrilous gossip dredged up by conservative websites, particularly the Daily Caller.  But now a federal grand jury has begun investigating Menendez’ ties to his top contributor and personal friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen of Florida.  From the Washington Post:

Menendez has intervened in matters affecting the financial interests of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, seeking to apply pressure on the Dominican government to honor a contract with Melgen’s port-security company, documents and interviews show. Also, Menendez’s office has acknowledged he interceded with federal health-care officials after they said that Melgen had overbilled the U.S. government for care at his clinic.

Melgen has provided Menendez with plane flights and hospitality at his Dominican vacation home, say people acquainted with their relationship.

Last month, people with knowledge of the case said FBI agents were conducting interviews in the Dominican Republic and the United States concerning allegations against Menendez, including the role he played in advocating for the enforcement of the port-security contract. A grand jury probe, which involves a prosecutor pursuing allegations with an eye toward possible indictment, typically represents a legal escalation, though it does not always lead to a prosecution.

As part of the grand jury investigation, the three people said, federal agents have questioned witnesses about the interactions between Menendez and Melgen, who contributed $700,000 last year to Menendez and other Senate Democrats. The grand jury has also issued subpoenas for Melgen’s business and financial records, according to two people briefed on the probe who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an on­going investigation.

(Emphasis mine.)  It’s important to remember that point: grand jury investigations are not an automatic indication of wrongdoing.  It’s a bit much to swallow the target of such an investigation saying he “welcomes” it, as Menendez did, but that’s the traditional ritual response: “I welcome the review, because I believe, at the end of the day, that my actions have been appropriate.  And just as everything that gave rise to this was a smear campaign based on slanders that drove the original story, I believe that when any review reviews the facts, they will determine that I have acted appropriately at all times.”

Menendez and his lawyers also said that the allegations concerning his dalliance with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, which do not seem directly related to the grand jury investigation, are “absurd.”  As the Daily Caller notes, the prostitution story led to the revelation of Menendez’ undisclosed flights on Melgen’s plane, which prompted the Senator to hastily cut a reimubrsement check for $58,500, a substantial chunk of his net worth.  But Menendez’ spokeswoman “declined to comment on whether Melgen cashed that check.”

On the subject of the prostitutes, blogger Jammie Wearing Fool notes that several mainstream media sources have casually, and incorrectly, reported that the prostitution allegations were completely disproven or recanted, based on a false Washington Post story that was later quietly edited for accuracy.  The Daily Caller has been keeping on top of that situation, and reports that the recanting prostitute – who was not one of the women interviewed for the earlier story – might not actually exist at all.  She didn’t attend the press conference where the affadavit recanting her allegations against Menendez was presented, the voter ID code presented to identify her in the affadavit appears to be invalid, and the lawyer who vouched for her with local media doesn’t want to talk about her any more.