On Saturday, a CBS News website article merely pointed to a Washington Post report on the FBI probe of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) expanding to include allegations of engaging in prostitution. Today on CBS This Morning, the story gets the full video treatment, including an independent confirmation of the Post’s reporting. Jan Crawford reports that “pressure is growing” on Menendez:
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is currently overseas leading a congressional delegation. Back at home he has been fighting off various allegations of wrongdoing, all related to his ties to a Florida doctor who is a major campaign contributor.
CBS News can confirm that the FBI is looking in to the claims, including one that the Senator solicited prostitutes while on a trip to the Dominican Republic – a country where prostitution is legal. So far the investigations have not been able to prove that Menendez did anything wrong, but with every charge, the pressure is growing on Menendez.
The MIami Herald’s Marc Caputo offers his view on the investigation:
The Miami [H]erald dispatched a team of reporters to the country to investigate. “Trying to find someone this many months after the fact based on all the sketchy allegations and the unclear claims, its really difficult. It’s a cold trail,” said Marc Caputo, a political writer for the paper. “But that’s only part of what’s become a steady drip of allegations against Menendez.”
The FBI and the Senate Ethics Committee also are investigating Menendez’s relationship with Florida doctor Salomon Melgen, a close friend and campaign contributor. Last month, the FBI raided Melgen’s West Palm Beach office after the doctor was accused of improperly billing Medicare nearly $9 million. He is fighting those charges.
The Washington Post, which gave the first mainstream-media reporting on the prostitution allegations, updates readers today with a more in-depth look at the corruption allegations involving interventions on behalf of Melgen:
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.
The details of efforts by Yzaguirre and embassy staff on behalf of the port security contract remain sketchy. But the ambassador spoke approvingly of stepping up drug interdiction measures when Dominican reporters specifically asked him about the port deal. And embassy officials told the American Chamber of Commerce that they were seeking a resolution of the contract favorable to an American investor, according to William Malamud, the chamber’s executive vice president.
Though it was unusual for a U.S. Embassy to cross swords with the local American chamber, embassy officials said they were doing what U.S. diplomats around the world do when American investors get ensnared in legal or bureaucratic problems.
But this was no routine case because of the relationship among the three men: the senator, the eye doctor and the envoy.
When Yzaguirre’s nomination in 2009 to become ambassador to the Dominican Republic was held up by Republicans in Congress over other disputes with the State Department, Melgen and Menendez came to his aid. At the time, Menendez chaired the subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that handled Caribbean affairs. With the nomination stalled, Melgen spoke with the senator and registered once again his support for Yzaguirre being confirmed, according to Melgen’s lawyer.
“Given his credentials and commitment to the United States, Dr. Melgen supported and advocated on behalf of Raul Yzaguirre given his belief that Mr. Yzaguirre would be an ideal representative of the United States in the Dominican Republic,” Melgen attorney Kirk Ogrosky said in a statement issued Thursday.
Menendez, who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, helped break the logjam over the nomination, his aides said, though they added that Melgen was not a factor. They said Menendez’s efforts on behalf of Yzaguirre, a veteran civil rights advocate in the Latino community, reflected the senator’s admiration for him.
Be sure to read it all. I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI doesn’t start developing an interest in Yzaguirre as well.