Remember Sen. Menendez's "assurances" that there's nothing to the sordid litany of scandals swirling over his head? Well, he's not backing down, maintaining that it's all part of some "smear campaign" dreamed up by his enemies. If this is all some baseless partisan grudge, the FBI, the mainstream media, and the Senate Ethics Committee sure seem to be taking it awfully seriously. Forget public relations -- Menendez's bigger concern may soon become what his long-time friend and mega donor could tell investigators to help mitigate his own sentence, should be become convinced that charges of Medicare fraud are likely to stick. As far as 'big fish' go, sitting Senators tend to be a few notches up the food chain from shady doctors. Meanwhile, another name has been added to the Menendez/Melgen mix: US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Raul Yzaguirre. Menendez, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee that oversaw the Caribbean, proved a valuable ally during Yzaguirre's rocky confirmation process in 2009. Another vocal advocate for Yzaguirre at the time? Surprise! Dr. Salomon Melgen. Once Yzaguirre was installed in Santo Domingo, it appears that he may have used his position to flex his muscle in a renewed push for a dormant port security deal, which promised to deliver a massive windfall to Melgen -- who had acquired an ownership share in the company that stood to benefit from the $500 million deal. From the perspective of this chummy little club, it was wins all around: Yzaguirre got a Senate rabbi who shepherded him through a tough confirmation to a coveted position, Melgen got an ambassador who was friendly to his substantial financial interests in the Dominican Republic, and Menendez got a fat and happy donor...who funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats in 2012 alone. The Washington Post is beginning to connect the dots:
When the U.S. Embassy set out to press the Dominican government over a long-stalled contract to provide port security, American officials took on some tough opponents. The deal had languished for more than a decade amid stiff resistance from the American Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of American and local businessmen in the Dominican Republic, and the country’s customs authorities. Ambassador Raul Yzaguirre’s team pushed the government to enforce the contract — which calls for operating X-ray scanners to screen cargo at the country’s ports — despite objections over its merits and its price tag. The port deal has come under heightened scrutiny in the United States in recent weeks because of its chief investor, a wealthy Florida eye doctor named Salomon Melgen who stood to gain a windfall if the contract was enforced, and his close friend Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Menendez, whose relationship with Melgen is the subject of a Senate ethics inquiry, was a major beneficiary of the doctor’s generosity, repeatedly flying on his private plane to the Dominican Republic, staying as a guest at his seaside mansion and receiving large campaign contributions. Melgen donated $700,000 to Menendez and other Senate Democrats last year. The senator was also the most powerful champion of the port deal, publicly urging U.S. officials to pressure Dominican authorities to enforce the contract. Menendez pointed to the port security deal at Yzaguirre’s confirmation hearing to become ambassador, an aide to the senator said, asking him to put a priority on security efforts aimed at countering drug trafficking through the Dominican Republic. Melgen, too, sought Yzaguirre’s help in enforcing the contract. Yzaguirre, for his part, received help from both men in becoming ambassador. They had provided a crucial boost to his nomination when it ran into trouble.
When push comes to shove, the solicitation rumors may end up being the least of Menendez's legal troubles. Ed Morrissey also makes a good point: As the lid is slowly pulled back on this can of worms, Amb. Yzaguirre may find himself in the FBI's cross-hairs, too. How long can these allegations percolate and escalate before pundits start talking about a second impending Senate vacancy in New Jersey? (Speaking of Senate vacancies, Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns has announced that he won't seek another term in 2014. This should be an easy hold for the GOP, which ran away with Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson's seat in 2012).