Politico wonders: Can Menendez survive — in New Jersey?

posted at 8:31 am on February 4, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

It’s a good question, but the wrong venue.  The question regarding Menendez isn’t political at the moment, at least not in terms of electoral process.  Menendez has a political problem and a legal problem, and the voters of New Jersey don’t factor into either one:

In a state with a colorful history, it takes a lot for a New Jersey politician to cross the line into political toxicity.

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez has found himself at the center of a growing controversy, with accusations swirling of a questionable friendship with a Florida eye surgeon being investigated for Medicare fraud, improper flights to the Dominican Republic and alleged patronizing of prostitutes — including underage girls — while in the Caribbean nation.

In some states, these allegations — and the fact the Senate Ethics Committee has joined federal investigators in looking into the explosive claims — would be enough to sink Menendez. But in New Jersey, that may not be enough to topple the Hudson County political boss, who runs the political machine for a part of Jersey known for being rough and tumble and who easily won reelection last year.

Menendez just won another six-year term in November, as these allegations began to break.  The FBI raid last week made it clear that there was at least some significant smoke coming from his relationship with big contributor Salomon Melgen, and not just about prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. The Miami Herald pointed out his interventions on behalf of one of Melgen’s businesses in the DR, and the rest of the national media followed suit.  That kicked off an inquiry, at least a preliminary one, for the Ethics Committee.  That’s where the political battle will take place, while the FBI probes Melgen for whatever reasons they have.

The raid also prompted Menendez to pay for two private-jet flights provided by Melgen in 2010 in an attempt to get past a violation of Senate disclosure rules.  That may have wiped out a significant part of Menendez’ cash, but he may need some more — soon.  Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle investigated the flight records of Melgen’s jet this year and asks whether Menendez hitched another ride to the DR last Easter:

After landing back in West Palm Beach at around 9:22 Eastern Daylight Time on the evening of April 6, 2012, it sat in its hangar for a day. Then, on the morning of April 8, 2012–Easter Sunday–at 8:56 a.m., the plane left Palm Beach International airport. At 11:30 a.m., it landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

Teterboro is an airport meant for private jets and chartered flights, and is a 20-minute cab ride from Menendez’s New Jersey home. After landing at Teterboro at 11:30 a.m. EDT, the plane sat for about an hour and ten minutes–just enough time to wait for someone to reach the airport from about 20 minutes away. At 12:50 p.m., Melgen’s plane took off for Las Americas International Airport in the Dominican Republic.

Menendez’s public schedule–available on his Senate website–puts him in New Jersey the night before that flight, at an Easter Musical entitled God’s Masterpiece at Roselle Park Middle School in Roselle Park, New Jersey.

Menendez does not appear to have had any public events until several days later. The Senate was not in session from March 31 until April 15.

Why is this time frame important?

It is during this timeframe that two Dominican Republic prostitutes alleged, in interviews with this reporter who broke the story for The Daily Caller before joining Breitbart News after the election, that they were under-paid to have sex with Menendez. The activity allegedly took place at Casa de Campo, a luxurious resort in the Dominican Republic around Easter-time in 2012. Casa de Campo is about an hour’s drive from Las Americas airport.

It’s not clear whether any of this would have mattered to New Jersey voters.  As Politico’s Ginger Gibson and John Bresnahan note, they have a rather high tolerance for corruption in public officials.  However, the question is really just how hard the FBI wants to look for evidence of corruption, and just how much of it Senate Democrats will tolerate from Menendez.


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