On Tuesday night, FBI agents in Florida raided the West Palm Beach office of Dr. Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor whose family has contributed at least $357,000 to a who's who of Florida politicians — and at least one pol from New Jersey, Sen. Robert Menendez (D), the recipient of 9 percent of those gifts and a personal friend of the doctor. The agents carted away boxes of evidence, reports The Miami Herald, and "the investigation is believed to be focusing on Melgen's finances" — he owes $11 million to the IRS — and "allegations about Menendez's trips and contact with prostitutes." (Watch a news report about the raid below.)
Allegations that Melgen had flown Menendez to the Dominican Republic on his jet, then helped procure him prostitutes, surfaced on the conservative site The Daily Caller right before the November elections, then faded when Menendez handily won re-election. But a few days ago reporters started receiving a dossier of email exchanges purportedly between an anonymous (and skittish) tipster and FBI agent Regino Chavez, in which the tipster, "Peter Williams," claimed that some of the Dominican prostitutes were underage, but refused to meet or speak with Chavez. Menendez said Monday he won't respond to the "fallacious allegations," and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Tuesday to "consider the source" of the allegations — presumably meaning The Daily Caller. "All anyone here has to look at is the source where this comes from."
That's a "breathtakingly shameless and hypocritical" sentiment coming from Reid, who "repeatedly insisted that 'sources' told him that Mitt Romney was a tax-cheating felon, while Reid insisted that the burden of proof was on Romney to prove himself innocent," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. No matter how you feel about the Menendez story, though, this is "as bad a timing as you're likely to see in politics." Not only has Reid just elevated the New Jersey senator to the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but Menendez is also one of the Gang of Eight in the upper house working on the high-profile immigration reform legislation.
The Daily Caller's smear job in November really was laughable, coming in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and accompanied by the florid descriptor Senator "Latin Lover," says Joe Coscarelli at New York. Besides, even if the story were true, Menendez isn't married and prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic. "But the issue isn't going away yet, and it's not the only questionable association lingering in the Menendez universe." On Tuesday, a New Jersey man pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally donate $20,000 to the Menendez campaign — the senator's office says it donated the money to charity as soon as the allegations surfaced — and it emerged recently that an undocumented immigrant and registered sex offender had been working as an unpaid intern in his office. "Up to this point, none of it has touched Menendez, but you know what they say about keeping certain company." If he wants to stay out of trouble, Menendez will have to find more reputable friends.