It's been a busy news week, so perhaps Sen. Bob Menendez is hoping other stories will detract attention from significant developments in his ongoing ethics scandal. Not here, they won't. The New Jersey Democrat has already admitted accepting two flights to the Dominican Republic on an embattled donor's private jet, visits on which he's alleged to have hired prostitutes, at least one of whom may have been underage. Confronted with clear evidence of these undisclosed trips, Menendez said he was only guilty of an oversight, and cut a personal check for nearly $60,000 covering the expenses. (This supposed "oversight" could very well constitute a Senate ethics violation). But wait, there's more:
Sen. Robert Menendez took at least one more trip to the Dominican Republic on the plane of a doctor and campaign donor than he has publicly admitted, according to sources who spent time with the New Jersey Democrat on the unreported visit. Menendez, already under fire for his association with a South Florida doctor and political contributor whose offices were raided by the FBI on Jan. 29, visited the Dominican Republic on the doctor's private jet in 2008 and took part in an exclusive private golf charity tournament, the sources said. Sources said Menendez flew on Dr. Salomon Melgen's plane to the Dominican Republic in April that year for the invite-only Sugar Open golf tournament at Casa de Campo, an exclusive vacation resort popular with American visitors. While there, Menendez stayed at the doctor's Casa de Campo villa, the sources said. "He was on the doc's jet in 2008 -- that I guarantee," a source who attended the same event told FoxNews.com. The senator did not report the 2008 trip in his annual disclosure forms, according to records reviewed by FoxNews.com. Depending on how the trip was funded, it's possible he was not required to. But claims Menendez attended the 2008 golf tournament would appear to conflict with a recent statement from the senator's office that he only flew on the donor's plane in 2010. Representatives for both Melgen and Menendez did not return requests from FoxNews.com for comment.
The Menendez camp wouldn't comment to Fox, but the did issue a denial elsewhere:
After this story was first published, a statement denying that Menendez took an April 2008 flight with Melgen was sent to another news organization. "This story is simply not true," the statement said..."Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen's plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately," a Menendez spokesman said at the time. But sources who attended the 2008 tournament say that's not true. "That's ridiculous, I heard him say that he only flew with him three times -- I saw him -- I absolutely guarantee the senator flew to the tournament in 2008 on the doctor's plane," one source told FoxNews.com.
If additional proof emerges that Menendez did, in fact, take at least one additional undisclosed trip, the revelation won't just add another log on the ethics investigation fire -- it could cost the Senator dearly. National Journal reported that Menendez may have exhausted a substantial percentage of his total net worth in reimbursing Melgen for the first two previously-undisclosed flights. If he has to cough up tens of thousands to cover the cost of a third aerial indiscretion, it could bankrupt him. In other words, Menendez literally cannot afford for this latest accusation to be true:
Menendez’s decision last month to use his personal funds to reimburse a prominent political contributor $58,500 for two flights to the Dominican Republic came at a major cost. The repayment amounts to between 32 percent and 87 percent of the assets Menendez reported holding in bank accounts and stock, according to his latest financial-disclosure form, which was filed last year. Menendez repaid Florida eye doctor and political donor Salomon Melgen only after his free flights aboard Melgen’s plane became public and the subject of a Senate ethics complaint.
Top Democrats have permitted Menendez to retain his prestigious Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship throughout this ordeal, despite pressure from some prominent liberal newspapers. The Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin, told the media that he believes his colleagues "assurances" that this is an overblown non-story. One wonders how Durbin might react to this new surprise. I'll leave you with some chuckle-worthy bonus trivia from the original Fox story, courtesy of an eyewitnesses who saw Menendez on that Caribbean golf trip in 2008:
During the 2008 trip, Menendez and the doctor played golf in the tournament during the day. Sources described the senator's golf skills as "not good."
Given the prostitution angle to this story, I'll resist making any crude "hole in one" jokes.