“Wonderful things, subpoenas,” Wilford Brimley said in Absence of Malice, after the threat of one broke the silence of conspirators in the film’s climax. We can add FBI raids to that list of wonderful catalysts. After discovering that the FBI had raided the offices of his frequent travel companion and campaign donor Salomon Melgen, Senator Bob Menendez suddenly remembered that he owed nearly $60,000 to Melgen for private-jet flights to the Dominican Republic:
Embattled Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez said through a spokesman Wednesday that trips he took on the private jet of a major political donor “have been paid for and reported appropriately.” But that may not have been accurate until shortly before the statement went out to media: WNBC-TV4 in New York City reported Wednesday that Menendez recently wrote a $58,500 check to the jet’s owner, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen.
“Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately,” the statement said.
Menendez’s chief of staff, Dan O’Brien, told NBC that it took the senator three years to pay his private airfare because of an office mistake.
“This was sloppy,” O’Brien conceded about two 2010 flights. “I’m chalking it up to an oversight.”
“Sloppy”? That’s hardly credible. Senators have staff members that watch for those kinds of expenditures. Three private jet flights to the Dominican Republic completely escaped their notice until the FBI raided Melgen’s offices? Riiiiiiiiiight.
NBC’s New York affiliate reports that the Ethics Committee is also looking into Menendez’ travel:
Asked whether the senator has been contacted by the Senate Ethics Committee about the matter, O’Brien said, “We can assume the Senate Ethics Committee is looking at the allegation.”
News of the senator paying for two private plane trips to the Dominican Republic comes after the FBI agents and investigators from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General searched the doctor’s Florida offices. Officials would not comment on the investigation, although several sources pointed out that HHS-OIG agents often investigate allegations of Medicare fraud.
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Wonderful things, FBI raids. This comes at a particularly sensitive time, as Menendez is slated to take over for John Kerry as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Until last night, Menendez had insisted he did nothing wrong, but the sudden payment of $58,500 for private jet flights that took place almost three years ago makes it look as if there is more to the investigation than Menendez has admitted. If the Ethics Committee has begun to probe Menendez’ travel, perhaps Harry Reid should start considering a Plan B.