This is commentary from political blogger and cartoonist Rob Tornoe.
What’s the deal with Bob Menendez? People outside of New Jersey seem to always associate prostitutes to the streets of Atlantic City. While there are undoubtedly girls working Atlantic Avenue, charging a pretty penny for their services, possibly the biggest whore in the state spends most of his time in Washington. When it comes to Senator Bob Menendez, there have been a lot of allegations swirling around over the last month. Trips to the Dominican Republic. Wild parties featuring lots of booze and attractive girls. Sex with underage prostitutes. It all sounds like something out of an Elmore Leonard novel.
And surprise, accounts and opinions of Menendez’s actions seem to fall on party lines. While Republicans are trying to portray Menendez as a horny, out-of-control party animal, Democrats want us to think he’s simply a pawn in a political game being played by the GOP.
As with most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
What we know is the FBI is currently investigating claims made by conservative web site The Daily Caller that Menendez solicited an underage Dominican prostitute while on a trip paid for by longtime friend and donor, Dr. Salomon E. Melgen. According to the Washington Post, the FBI can’t find a single shred of evidence linking Menendez to any prostitutes working in the Dominican Republic, underage or otherwise.
As the New York Times reported, a group known as the National Legal and Policy Center, funded by donations made by prominent Republicans nationwide, has ran a small team of investigators acting like private detectives with one goal: to bring down Menendez. So this spicy tale of underage prostitutes seems at best a political smear, and at worst totally slanderous.
It wouldn’t be the first time the national press, being led by their noses by Republicans, baselessly accused Menendez of public corruption. His records were subpoenaed just 60 days prior to the 2006 mid-term election by then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who accused Menendez of stealing taxpayers’ money on a building he owned. This allowed his Republican opponent, Tom Kean Jr., to spend the rest of the campaign telling voters Menendez was “the subject of a federal criminal investigation.” Not only could Christie not find any evidence of any wrongdoing, but U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger actually wrote a letter clearing Menendez of any illegal activity.
Unfortunately for Menendez, his problems don’t end with claims of associating himself with prostitutes. In fact, it may have led to a more dangerous allegation for Menendez’s political future: corruption.
Menendez’s bigger problem
You see, Menendez did accept two flights to the Dominican Republican on Meglen’s private plane. Meglen is a shady donor who has put his money (to the tune of $700,000) into a lot of politicians” pockets, and is currently under investigation by the feds for potentially defrauding Medicare. With friends like these…
On the other end, Menendez intervened in ways that benefited Melgen with at least four different federal agencies. According to the Washington Post, Menendez questioned federal health-care officials on two separate occasions about Melgen’s alleged overbilling on Medicare claims to the tune of $9 million.
Port security contract
Menendez has also been an outspoken champion of a $500 million contract to provide port security for the Dominican Republic. Any guess who the company’s chief investor is? Also want to guess which politician went to both the State Department and the Commerce Department to revitalize the deal that was practically dead?
“Nobody has bought me,” Menendez said on Univision last week, apparently assuming New Jersey voters are too dumb to connect one plus two. In his mind, paying back Melgen $58,500 for the free plane trips and chalking it up to a simple slip-up should put everyone’s mind to rest.
He may be right for the time being. According to a Monmouth University poll released last week, only 24 percent of respondents believe Menendez was involved in any wrongdoing.
That may change as we move away from the ridiculous sex allegations and look more towards the claims of bribery and public corruption. New Jerseyans may like a good sex story, but right now, it appears the only person selling himself for money is our sitting U.S. Senator. Menendez seems to be guilty of everything other than what conservatives and The Daily Caller are accusing him of. To paraphrase Freddy Mercury, Menendez’s defense seems to be, “I’m just a political prostitute, my dear.”
Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at RobTornoe.com, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.