Just last week, the earnest boy scout who runs the United States Senate was laughing off questions about sordid allegations involving Sen. Bob Menendez and underage prostitutes. Harry Reid isn't chuckling anymore. Scrutiny of the New Jersey Democrat's dealings has intensified against a backdrop of multiple formal investigations. A few days ago, Politico speculated over whether Menendez is equipped to weather the wicked political storm that's brewing:
In a state with a colorful history, it takes a lot for a New Jersey politician to cross the line into political toxicity. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez has found himself at the center of a growing controversy, with accusations swirling of a questionable friendship with a Florida eye surgeon being investigated for Medicare fraud, improper flights to the Dominican Republic and alleged patronizing of prostitutes — including underage girls — while in the Caribbean nation. In some states, these allegations — and the fact the Senate Ethics Committee has joined federal investigators in looking into the explosive claims — would be enough to sink Menendez. But in New Jersey, that may not be enough to topple the Hudson County political boss, who runs the political machine for a part of Jersey known for being rough and tumble and who easily won reelection last year.
Be sure to skim that full article for a few choice quotes from disgraced former Senator Bob Torricelli (D-NJ), who offers his expert opinion on being embroiled in a fetid scandal in the Garden State. Always a sterling judge of character, Harry Reid is standing by his fellow Democrat (Menendez, that is), albeit not as smugly as before:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he has the “utmost confidence” in Sen. Bob Menendez, even as the New Jersey Democrat faces allegations of ethics violations. Reid said in an interview aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” he's supporting Menendez as the investigations into the senator's actions continue. “I have the utmost confidence in him," Reid said. "I have confidence he did nothing wrong. But that's what investigations are all about,” he added. “He has been and will be a great member of that committee.”
Please excuse the naivety -- as a Nevadan, Reid is entirely unacquainted with the concept of corruption. Though Menendez's aides have been notably mum about whether their boss is seeking legal representation to handle potential ethics or even criminal charges, the principal himself wants the public to know that he's the victim in all of this. Damn those "right wing blogs:"
Allegations that Sen. Robert Menendez engaged with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic while visiting a donor are "smears" being pushed by "right-wing blogs," and are "totally unsubstantiated," the embattled New Jersey Democrat told reporters today. "It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless, individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they have done successfully," Menendez, who is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee, said. "Now, nobody can find them, no one ever met them, no one ever talked to them, but that's where we are at. So, the bottom line is all of those smears are absolutely false, and that's the bottom line."
But what's the bottom line, Senator? Menendez can huff and puff about "false smears" all he wants, but that won't make the following facts disappear: (a) His close associate and mega donor's medical practice was raided last week by the FBI as rumors of large-scale Medicare fraud swirl, (b) Menendez has admitted that "accidentally" forgot to disclose two trips to the Dominican Republic on his friend's private jet, a likely violation of Senate ethics rules, and (c) even if -- if -- the salacious sex allegations prove unfounded, Menendez and Dr. Salomon Melgen appear to have enjoyed a very cozy friendship, indeed:
Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye surgeon, has always been happy to help out his friend, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. He rushed to the senator’s side when Mr. Menendez’s mother died, flew him around on his private jet and delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit Mr. Menendez and the national Democratic Party. Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, has also been helpful to Dr. Melgen, according to records and interviews, in ways that could bring the doctor a highly lucrative windfall. 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. Mr. Menendez, who is chairman of the Senate subcommittee that holds sway over the Dominican Republic, subsequently urged officials in the State and Commerce Departments to intervene so the contract would be enforced, at an estimated value of $500 million.
Set aside the underage prostitution angle for a moment; the report above suggests there was some hot and heavy back-scratching going on that cries out for a closer look. The Senate Ethics Committee and a team of federal investigators seem happy to oblige. But "smears!" Apparently the New York Times qualifies as a conservative blog these days. Hillary was right -- the right-wing conspiracy is as vast as it is insidious. Then again, certain other Washington politicians have managed to skate by unscathed as their felonious cohorts and bankrollers are thrown in prison. I'll leave you with three reasons why the simmering Menendez affair could be more than a run-of-the-mill scandal ensnaring an isolated bad apple:
(1) The good doctor Melgen has also generously donated to Terry McAuliffe, the Democrats' candidate in Virginia's upcoming and contested gubernatorial election. This guy's toxicity may seep well beyond a lone Senator from New Jersey.
(2) Menendez has assumed the prestigious post of Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In light of Chuck Hagel's trainwreck confirmation hearings last week, Democrats find themselves in in the unpleasant position of defending two embattled men who are seeking extremely influential positions in America's foreign policy and national security constellation. Some New Jersey newspapers are starting to turn on the man they recently endorsed for re-election.
(3) As the only Hispanic Democrat in the Senate (Republicans boast two Latino members in the upper chamber, incidentally), Menendez is poised to be a major voice for the Left during the upcoming immigration reform debate. Having serious ethical questions and a possible ugly sex mess hanging over his head may...compromise his effectiveness as a spokesman on this, or any other, front. Oh, and he had an illegal immigrant and registered sex offender working in his Senate office until the young man was arrested in December.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography