Is This Why 50 Percent of NJ Voters Want Menendez Gone?

Matt Vespa
|
Posted: Sep 18, 2017 2:05 PM
Is This Why 50 Percent of NJ Voters Want Menendez Gone?

We’ve had almost a month of media silence on the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). The New Jersey Democrat is accused of allowing his office to be used to help longtime friend Dr. Salomon Melgen in exchange for campaign contributions and lavish gifts, including paid vacations and over $700,000 in campaign contributions. And it’s not just the bribes. USA Today had the rundown of the unethical allegations undertaken by Menendez that includes using his office to fast track visas for Melgen’s girlfriends, stopping the Department of Homeland Security from donating cargo screening equipment to the Dominican Republic, and placing pressure on DHS to allow Melgen’s company do the security. Menendez allegedly placed pressure on Medicare staffers over a $9 billion billing issue Melgen had for eye drugs; Melgen is an ophthalmologist trade:

August 2010 flights: Menendez flew in Melgen's jet from Washington to the Dominican Republic for a vacation at Melgen's villa in Casa De Campo, then back to Teterboro Airport three days later. Menendez reimbursed Melgen, at charter rates, in January 2013, after an investigation was launched. (Bribery counts 3 and 4)

September 2010 flights and hotel: Menendez and a guest flew in Melgen's jet to the Dominican Republic to attend a wedding in Punta Cana with Melgen and his wife. After staying in a hotel, for which Melgen paid $770, Menendez and guest flew back to Teterboro three days later.  Menendez reimbursed Melgen for the cost of the flights in January 2013. (Bribery counts 5 and 6, and Honest services fraud count 15)

October 2010 flights: Melgen bought an $890 first-class ticket for Menendez to fly from Newark to Florida, then paid $8,037 two days later for Menendez take a charter flight back to the Washington, D.C., area. (Bribery counts 7 and 8 and Honest services fraud count 16)

May 2012 contributions: After an email request from Menendez's chief of staff, Melgen and his family gave $60,000, of which $20,000 went to the Fund to Uphold the Constitution, a legal expense fund Menendez created to battle a recall effort; and $40,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee (Bribery counts 9 and 10)

June 2012 contributions: Melgen's clinic, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, gave $300,000 earmarked for New Jersey to Majority PAC, a national super PAC working to keep Democrats in the Senate majority. (Bribery counts 11 and 12)

September-October 2012 contributions: $403,500 donated by VRC between Sept. 30 and Oct. 12 included $103,500 combined to county Democratic organizations of Camden, Essex, Passaic and Union counties and $300,000 to Majority PAC. (Bribery counts 13 and 14; Honest services fraud count 17)     

Let’s circle back to those girlfriends. Apparently, these were a top priority for the senator, albeit one of them was quite ornery during cross-examination last week (via AP):

Prosecutors in the corruption trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy donor put two of the donor’s reputed former girlfriends on the witness stand Tuesday in an attempt to put Menendez’s efforts to smooth their visa applications into the context of a larger bribery scheme, with mixed results.

While Rosiell Polanco-Suera testified that Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen said he was “going to fix” her initial visa denial by talking to Menendez, the second, Svitlana Buchyk, turned her testimony into a sideshow with a combative performance, saying she was only in court “because he forced me to,” pointing at one of the prosecutors.

The visa applications of Polanco-Suera and her sister ultimately were granted after a second interview in the Dominican Republic. In between the two events, Menendez, New Jersey’s senior Democratic senator, emailed one of his staffers and told him to call the ambassador about the matter “ASAP,” the staffer testified Monday.

Using a translator for her testimony, Polanco-Suera also said she and her sister waited for hours for the first interview in November 2008 only to be dismissed by an interviewer who didn’t look at documents they had brought — which included a letter from Menendez.

The second time, she said, they had little or no wait and were approved the same day.

“Had Dr. Melgen fixed it?” Justice Department attorney Monique Abrishami asked her.

“Apparently,” she said.

Now even after all of this, the AP did have something positive to say; Menendez is working hard. Well, that’s good for him. Conservatives are wasting no time to label him, “MIA Bob,” with America Rising creating a site tracking how many votes he’s missing as a result of this trial. Menendez’s legal team tried to alter the schedule, but the judge refused, noting that his job is no different than that of a cab driver

Menendez is up for re-election next year, though his approval rating has taken a nosedive since this whole fiasco came to a head. Only 20 percent of New Jersey voters think he should be re-elected (via Quinnipiac):

New Jersey voters say 50 - 20 percent, with 30 percent undecided, that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez does not deserve reelection next year, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today [9/14]. 

Sen. Menendez gets a negative 31 - 49 percent job approval rating, his lowest rating since a split 30 - 31 percent rating in a February 20, 2008, survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. 

Democrats approve by an anemic 45 - 35 percent and voters 18 to 34 years old are divided 37 - 33 percent. Every other party, gender, education, age or racial group disapproves.

Maurice Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said that if Menendez is convicted, he could kiss his political career goodbye, as this scandal has hurt him in the polls. If he’s acquitted however, “who knows”? On the girlfriend front, it is important to note that even a State Department official testified, saying that they get thousands of green card requests, and that it’s not unusual for an applicant to get a second interview upon a request by a member of Congress. Still, there’s the flights, vacations, and contributions that will be sifted through in due time. Also, it appears then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was approached by Menendez to help him out with Melgen’s Medicare issue. Nothing came of it. Reid isn’t accused of wrongdoing, but it shows that Bob was really, really, interested in helping Melgen. Bloomberg reported this in August:

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, in trying to help a campaign donor who was accused of overbilling the government, enlisted then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “amplify the pressure” on the Obama administration, the Justice Department said.

[…]

Menendez “enlisted” Reid in November 2011 to help pressure the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS, to reverse its ruling that Melgen owed $8.9 million for overbilling Medicare. Reid contacted a White House deputy chief of staff, prosecutors said.

“At that time, the Majority Leader reached out to the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, informing her that Menendez was upset about how a Florida ophthalmologist was being treated by CMS and asking that she call the agency,” according to the 30-page filing.

But the staffer, who wasn’t identified, “demurred” after “recognizing the matter involved a dispute between a single doctor and an administrative agency,” according to prosecutors. The filing doesn’t offer further details about what Menendez allegedly asked Reid to do. Reid isn’t accused of wrongdoing in the case.

Menendez is adamant that he will be vindicated and cleared of the charges filed against him.