New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez has no one to blame but himself for the mess he has created for himself. Since last fall, Menendez has been battling allegations that he offered $500 for prostitutes while he was in the Dominican Republic but only paid them $100. The allegations took a more serious turn when it was reported that the FBI is investigating the liasons because Menendez “received the services of young prostitutes” while in the Dominican Republic. Reports place the ages of the prostitutes at 16.
Menendez hasn’t been charged with anything and the FBI investigation may lead to nothing. Menendez has also denied everything, but there remains a lot of smoke and Menendez isn’t dealing with swirl of allegations in a convincing, forthright way.
Menendez has made several trips to the Dominican Republic over the last few years. It appears that Menendez has taken those trips on a private jet of a supporter, Salomon Melgen. Yet Menendez has not submitted any reports of receiving gifts for trips to the Dominican Republic as Senate ethic rules require.
While prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic, the prostitute must be 18 years or older. Nevertheless, it is frowned upon for elected officials to engage in behavior in foreign countries that is legal but illegal in the United States. This opens them up to blackmail, which was one the serious concerns when Secret Service agents were cavorting with prostitutes in Colombia last year.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group has investigated Menendez but backed off over doubts about the credibility of Menendez’ accuser. Yet Menendez refuses to address this issue as forthrightly as he should. The Daily Caller listed the inability to get straight information from Menendez’ office. To be fair, the Daily Caller has an agenda and broke this story initially. There are plenty of reasons for Menendez to avoid talking to them, but they still raise some interesting questions.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Menendez did not reply to emails and phone messages seeking comment about how many times has he visited the Dominican Republic since taking office; whether he has ever paid for the services of underage prostitutes; whether his use of Melgen’s private jet was related to his campaign or to his official Senate duties; whether his campaign reported travel perks and other in-kind gifts from Melgen in Federal Election Commission reports; whether he is aware of an FBI investigation into his activities; and whether the Senate Ethics committee has contacted him about his trips to the Dominican Republic.
It’s possible there may be nothing to any of this, but Menendez is not doing himself any favors because this is more than an underage prostitute investigation. It is about behavior of top elected official, Senate rules and taking secret favors from a supporter.
Menendez is keeping this investigation open, as well as questions from the media, because he has not dealt with it as openly as he should. Even if the allegations go away because they were too difficult to prove, questions will remain of Menendez. Whatever questions that linger will be Menendez’ own fault because of his own behavior and lack of transparency. Menendez has become an example on how not to handle a scandal. He may be completely innocent, but needs to find a way to explain that.