The scandal surrounding New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez has exploded at an unfortunate time. The senator has just been selected to take over for John Kerry as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he’s also been an instrumental force on a recent bipartisan proposal on immigration reform.
Information first came to light that Menendez was linked to Florida ophthalmologist and major Democratic donor Salomon Melgen whose office was raided by the FBI office last week. However, most damning is an accusation that Menendez joined Melgen to the Dominican Republic where they attended sex parties which included underage prostitutes.
Host Carmen Russell-Sluchansky spoke with New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine to discuss the accusations and their impact on the political future of Menendez.
So, obviously the FBI is taking it seriously enough to be investigating this. I can imagine they have the resources to make sure that they do get to the bottom of it. I can’t imagine they can’t find the two women who made those accusations, that were interviewed on the Daily Caller.
Well, that’s the funny thing because when I discussed that with Melanie Sloan who is the Executive Director of CREW, which is pretty much a liberal activist group, and she is a former federal prosecutor and really knows the way around, and I said – by now they must have already found these women! And if we assume the investigation is proceeding – they know by now the facts of what happened with the women or at least their allegations. Melanie thought maybe not, maybe they couldn’t find them. And I thought – well, if they couldn’t find them, if they can’t find a prostitute in Dominican Republic – they are wasting my tax dollars.
Right, sure! Going back to what you were talking about those flights. Those were two fights that he took on Dr. Melgen’s private jet down to the DR and he apparently has now reimbursed, he wrote a personal check for the flights on the sum of almost $60 000. Do you figure in New Jersey, politically speaking, is that enough to settle that issue at least?
That’s really embarrassing because he clearly didn’t intent spend 1\3 of his yearly salary on a couple of flights to DR. So, it really looks like he caught with his hand in the cookie jar. In New Jersey he’s gotten away with a lot. In 2006 there was a controversy concerning a rowhouse, his first house which he bought in a residential area where rents were very low, $900 a month. And he turned it first into his personal law office, which is legal, but then when he left it rented the entire building for commercial use for four times the market rent.
And the funny about that, I interviewed him back then and I said – you were the Mayor at the time of Union City, where this was, do you recall whether you got a variance that permitted you to switch to commercial use when you started renting it out. And he with the straight face said – no, I don’t recall – which is of course amazing because those of us who bought or sold a house remember every detail. And he later sold it at a big profit based on the commercial rental. So, there’s been a lot of that sort of thing.
And he was Mayor, I mean you would expect the Mayor to dot the eyes and cross the teeth.
Well, the good thing is – this being a Hudson County and the records were lost in the flood of course. That sort of thing happens a lot in Hudson County. You know, it is great, I mean it is a wonderful place. It is a fascinating little machine, one of the oldest democratic machines in the country and all sorts of funs. They actually run the place, but it a lot like Chicago. Thoroughly corrupt, but they run it pretty well.
And he is a significant part of this, I mean the guy has been in politics since he was 20 years old.
Yes! And the first thing he did in politics was to ride out the guy who had started him in politics, this guy Musto who was the Mayor of Union City. And Menendez flipped on him and testified against him which violates the only law in Hudson County which is – you never run on your friends. So, he remains somewhat unpopular over that to this day, 40 years later. But people have long memories in Hudson County and there are all kinds of other wonderful stuff that goes on there, politically it is just a great place.
We never usually elect Hudson politicians state wide. The last one was in the 30’es. It is unusual for the democrats to put one forward because people just don’t trust them. And I don’t know why the democrats put Menendez forward in 2005, that was when Jon Corzine resigned to become the governor and Menendez was named to fill out his term and then subsequently elected twice to it. I always thought he is a questionable guy and I always thought he would be easy for the republicans to beat but they are fairly incompetent, except for Chris Christie. This is not a state with a lot of competent republicans.
And they did win this last election cycle with 58% of the vote despite all of this.
Yes. He won in a landslide and the guy they put up against him was very colorless character who didn’t run any campaign that any of us in the media noticed. So, it was a pretty perfunctory win. Another fun here for us is – if Menendez is forced from office – that means Cory Booker the Mayor of Newark who is perhaps the only politician in the country with equal charisma to Chris Christie at the moment has been angling to run for the US Senate. He decided not to run against Christie for Governor. He was going to run next year against Frank Lautenberg, another Senator who is going to be 90 years old. But if this would open up I would expect Cory Booker to jump in and we would have this great election where we had both Chris Christie and Cory Booker up for election on the same day, and that would be wonderful for us, pundits, not so much for Chris Christie.
So, the assumption is – if there was an election and if Menendez were to step down, it would be on the same day as the general election for the governorship.
If he steps down more than 70 days beforehand, yes. And that will be very interesting. I expect this to come ahead pretty quickly because I think either the FBI’s got enough on him to really make it look bad and a lot of people will be urging him to make a deal and get out, or they don’t and he is going to write it out. I would expect the democrats to pressure him pretty hard to get out because they would want that, I mean they can really cause some problems. Chris Christie right now is cruising to what looks like a double digit victory over Barbara Buono who is a nice but ineffectual state Senator who is running against him. The democrats were casting about for somebody stronger than her to run and failed to get anybody in there. If Cory Booker would have run for Senate, all of a sudden Chris Christie’s landside disappears. And he is in for a real fight because Cory Booker would energize the black vote.
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