February 3rd, 2013
12:38 PM ET
10 years ago

Home state newspaper casts doubt on Menendez during scandal

(CNN) - New Jersey's largest newspaper had some tough words Sunday for Sen. Bob Menendez as he faces allegations of improper travel and parties with prostitutes. The same paper endorsed the senator's bid for re-election three months ago.

An editorial in the Newark-based Star-Ledger said the accusations raised "serious doubts about his fitness to serve as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee" and argued he "needs to break his silence and explain himself."

The chairmanship had been held by former Sen. John Kerry, who was sworn in as secretary of state on Friday. Menendez is set to take over the position this week.

Menendez has been in the spotlight as scrutiny escalates over his relationship with a generous donor whose plane he took to the Dominican Republic and who has business ties in the Caribbean nation.

The scandal first emerged shortly before Election Day last fall, when a conservative online publication cited three unidentified sources who claimed the senator had flown on private planes to the Caribbean and during the trip had sex parties with prostitutes.

In response to a question Thursday from CNN regarding whether he broke finance laws, Menendez deferred to his office but added "these are nameless, faceless, anonymous allegations. You should find out from them."

The Star-Ledger didn't put much stock in the prostitute claims, saying the allegations have no credible evidence and have "all the markings of a dirty trick."

But it raised questions about the plane trips, which Menendez took in 2010 but didn't pay for until January 4 of this year - a gap that his spokeswoman, Patricia Enright, described as an "oversight." His office said Menendez paid $58,500 from his personal funds.

The Star-Ledger editorial board, however, didn't buy that it was simply an "oversight."

"Why would anyone remember something so routine and mundane as a rich guy whisking you off to an exotic vacation in the Caribbean in a private jet? If the senator has no better explanation, he will richly deserve the reprimand the full Senate will no doubt impose on him," the editorial stated.

FBI agents searched and removed material Wednesday from the office of the donor, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, sparking renewed attention to the scandal.

An FBI spokesman in Florida has confirmed there was "law enforcement activity" at the location, but did not elaborate or mention any person specifically.

Another issue has to do with whether Menendez advocated on Capitol Hill on behalf of ICSSI - a port security company in which Melgen has a stake. The company had a contract to screen cargo that went through Dominican ports, but Menendez argued last July during a Senate subcommittee hearing that Dominican authorities didn't want to "live by" the contract.

"Why, then, did Menendez put pressure on officials at the State Department and Commerce Department over the contract during a hearing? Was he using his position on the Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate for his friend's business interests? Keep in mind, Melgen was not a constituent; he was a money man who had given generously to Menendez," the editorial sated.

"This is tawdry stuff," it continued. "For all his talents, Menendez seems to have behaved like a slippery Hudson County pol. We are eager to hear his explanation."

Meanwhile, the Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, came to his colleague's defense on Sunday, reiterating he has full confidence in Menendez.

"He was a leader in the House. He's been a leader in the Senate. He's chairman of that committee. He'll do a wonderful job. And he's also an integral part of what we do with immigration reform. So, I have the utmost confidence in him," Reid said on ABC's "This Week." "I have confidence he did nothing wrong. But that's what investigations are all about."

- CNN's Ashley Killough, Steve Brusk, Greg Clary, Jim Acosta, Greg Botelho, Adriana Hauser, Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.

Filed under: Bob Menendez • New Jersey • Senate
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Doc1

    This is not good. I guess his excuse will be that he was trying to bolster his credentials for the Foreign Relations committee.

    February 3, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  2. 90909090

    mendenez is corrupt pol...period

    February 3, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  3. Freesater

    The senator had better come clean. Unfortunately I don't think he is fit to continue and I am a Democrat but I am sure there are at least 30% on both side of the aisle fall in that category.

    February 3, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. Jesus Saves

    I thought it was the Democrats who had declared "War on Women."

    February 3, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  5. NoTags

    Since Congress is made up of two bodies, i.e. the House of Representatives and the Senate, if a Senator is accused of wrong doing the charges against him or her should be heard by the House of Representatives ethics committee. Conversely, if a member of the House of Representatives is accused of wrong doing the charges against him or her should be heard by the Senate ethics committee.

    This would remove the bias of Senator for or against Senator or member of the House of Representatives for or against a member of the House of Representatives.

    February 3, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  6. Archie Dicksion

    Most of us (the american voters) have little real knowledge concerning the background of the candidates for a particular office. There does not appear to be any office or commission that performs neutral background checks. Yet we are told that it is our civic duty to turn out an vote for the candidate of our choice. Only then can we be assured of having the kind of government that we desire and deserve. That candidate once elected enters into a position of trust to the people in his elective district. In the case of a Senator, it is to all of the people in the state which he represents. That element of trust is not the morals of the market place, but the responsibility to place the interest of the public over his or her own interest. Menendez is merely the tip of the iceberg. I am sure I do not need to point out the various indiscretions from the Whitehouse to the Senate and House of Representatives. Yet these bodies set their own rules of conduct to which you and I have no input. Most investigations in to the conduct of the various members does not arise internally, but from an external source. The internal body then establishes the penalty for the offending member. When was the last time there was an expulsion from the body for a violation of the trust imposed upon a member by virtue of their election? It did not occur for sex in the Whitehouse, for tax evasion, or for effecting legislation benefiting their own interests. Perhaps the time has come for an independent public body to review the transgressions of our elected officials and to set their punishment.

    February 3, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  7. Bob

    The man is a disgrace. he needs to resign.

    February 3, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  8. noteasilyswayed

    This will take a while, but eventually he will be either reprimanded or forced to resign. Once again, we need to get rid of all lifers in Congress. Do not re-elect anyone after two terms.

    February 3, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  9. American Pride

    At least when Dems party, they prefer to be with women. Good for you!, Senator Bob. Show 'em how it's done.

    February 3, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  10. Mark Markarian

    The first indication of wrong doing was on April 9th, 2012. Where was the Star Ledger between then and November 6th, 2012?


    Why, Menendez is a Democrat.

    February 3, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  11. George

    I have always supported Sen. Menendez, but his "explanation" seems very vague and deliberate. I have no doubt that these details were exposed by conservative groups for purely political reasons, but if there were no truth to them, it seems as though the Senator would deny them much more forcefully. But saying things like, refer that to my office...makes him look guilty, at least partially.

    February 3, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  12. brown

    Just another corrupt politician.

    Keep on re-electing them! hahahaha!

    February 3, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  13. 111Dave111

    Mark Markarian and others, this isn't always a Republican vs Democrat or Conservative vs Liberal problem. Google David Vitter.

    February 3, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  14. Sane Person

    Another one that needs to go.

    February 3, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  15. Mike

    This guy is from Union City – the heart of the Hudson County political machine. And you thought he was on the up and up? Almost every mayor in Hudson County ends up in handcuffs. Believe it or not, after a previous Union City mayor was convicted of racketeering, etc, they named a city cultural center after him! Do some Googling about Union City, West New York, North Bergen, Guttenberg, Hudson County politicos who have been arrested.

    February 3, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  16. Jimh77

    Just more proof that Politicians are bought and paid for personal gains. Should be in prison, not in Washington.

    February 3, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  17. Paul Cooper

    Asking Menendez to "come clean" is no different than asking him to walk on water. It would require a miracle for him to remove all the dirt.

    February 3, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  18. twain45

    I'm a Democrat, and he needs to resign.

    February 3, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |