The smoke swirling around Sen. Bob Menendez's alleged scandals has grown so chokingly thick that even the editors of the New York Times are getting a tad antsy. From a house editorial entitled "Mr. Menendez's Ethics Problem:"
Senator Robert Menendez was never a distinguished choice for chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the position he ascended to this month by virtue of seniority. Concerns about that quality gap have sharply escalated amid new disclosures about Mr. Menendez’s use of his position to advance the financial interests of a friend and big donor. Instead of trying to protect Mr. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, needs to remove his gavel, at least pending credible resolution by the Senate Ethics Committee of the swirling accusations of misconduct....It appears Mr. Menendez has learned little from his own previous ethics issues or from the fall of a former New Jersey senator, Robert Torricelli, who decided not to run for re-election in 2002 amid allegations that he had inappropriately aided a big donor and accepted expensive gifts. It is unclear whether the Senate Ethics Committee has initiated a formal inquiry into Mr. Menendez’s conduct, but a prompt and thorough review is surely called for. In the meantime, Mr. Menendez needs to relinquish his leadership role, at least temporarily.
Score another point for those infernal "right-wing blogs." The Times' declaration echoes similar calls from various New Jersey papers, including the Asbury Park Press, which endorsed Menendez for re-election last year:
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.
How are top Senate Democrats responding? By standing by their man, of course:
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said on Sunday embattled Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) should keep his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee despite an investigation into his dealings with a top donor. "Sen. Menendez has given us an assurance that there is no substance to these charges," the Democratic senator from Illinois said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It's being looked at by the Ethics Committee. Of course, I can't comment beyond that."
And who among us wouldn't be satisfied with Sen. Menendez's "assurances"? So much for "draining the swamp," or whatever. The Newark Star-Ledger, meanwhile, published a lengthy investigative report yesterday, exposing how the senator's "money and access flowed:"
In the weeks leading up to the election, four big checks totaling $103,500 were sent to Democratic county committees in Passaic, Union, Essex and Camden, all through a donor in Florida whom nobody had ever heard of before — a West Palm Beach eye doctor named Salomon Melgen. Charlotte DeFilippo, the Union County Democratic chairwoman, said Melgen’s money helped Democrats up and down the ticket, but that it was especially meant for Menendez. “I said to him, ‘We need additional funds,’ ” she said, recalling her conversation with the senator. “He said he’d see what he could do, and I received a check.” ... But while much has been written about the connections between the two men, an examination of campaign finance reports and other records shows that over the years their relationship has not been a one-way street. Menendez’s office would not respond to questions about the timing of the donations, or the senator’s intervention for his friend.
Click through to read some risible quotes from Menendez swearing up and down that he sees absolutely no distinction between an average citizen and a mega-donor. Bonus sleaze to his office for invoking children with autism and Hurricane Sandy in an unresponsive statement regarding the substance of the Ledger's story.
UPDATE - The Times unearths more details about the Menendez-Melgen nexus. The Senator actively sought to prevent certain aid to the Dominican Republic in a naked effort to help enrich his friend and top donor. As you read this story, keep Menendez's "assurances" about how he treats everyone equally in mind.
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