U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has become one of the most powerful people on Capitol Hill. He is now the chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but he has spent most of this year denying reports of improper behavior. In January, the FBI raided the Florida office of Dr. Salomon Melgen, a major campaign donor, who also provided Menendez free trips to the Dominican Republic.
To discuss the controversy swirling around Menendez, NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider sat down with WNYC reporter Bob Hennelly who has been investigating the senator’s activities.
According to Hennelly, the senator’s connection to Melgen can be traced back to an organization called the U.S.-Spain Counsel, which is headed by Pedro Pablo Permuy (a former Menendez staffer) and composed of multinational corporations and lobbyists. The organization, said Hennelly, provided a nexus for major campaign donors.
“It raises all kinds of questions about what is going on with this group and the nexus because we know Pedro Pablo Permuy is also involved in this very controversial Dominican port deal that involves Dr. Solomon Melgen, a longtime contributor,” Hennelly said.
Whether or not Menendez was engaged in any illegality is not the point when it comes to Senate ethics rules but the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to Hennelly.
“We know that [Menendez] went down on these flights and he only paid the money back and reimbursed Melgen after complaints were raised some two years after he took the flights,” said Hennelly. “In that time in between, he advocated on behalf of a Dominican port contract that Dr. Melgen had with the Dominican Republic that was stalled and he did it chairing a committee where he had considerable sway asking American officials to put pressure on the Dominican Republic to enforce this contract without mentioning that he had this relationship with Melgen. That’s the essential problem.”