Sen. Menendez Claims He Didn't Know Ex-Aide Was Part of Port Deal

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Menendez photoFrances Robles reports in the New York Times that an ex-aide to Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) stood to benefit from a Dominican port security deal, along with Menendez benefactor Salomon Melgen. From the Times:

Mr. Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, has pushed United States government officials to help enforce a contract that a company owned in part by one of his major donors, Dr. Salomon E. Melgen, has with the Dominican government, which has refused to honor it.

A top executive at Dr. Melgen's security company will be Pedro Pablo Permuy, a former national security adviser and senior legislative aide to Mr. Menendez, according to a cousin of Dr. Melgen. Mr. Permuy's ties to the senator go back at least 20 years.

But Menendez' office told the Times that this is all news to the Senator:

Tricia Enright, a spokeswoman for Mr. Menendez, said the senator had no knowledge of Mr. Permuy's involvement in Dr. Melgen's company until The New York Times raised a question on Monday.

This defies belief. Permuy was a senior staffer for Menendez, whose portfolio included the Dominican Republic. Melgen, who has deep roots and family in the Dominican Republic, is Menendez' top benefactor. All three are frequent visitors to the island, which has an inbred (and corrupt) political establishment where everyone knows each other.

The Times sheds some light on these relationships.

Mr. Permuy was deputy assistant secretary of defense for inter-American affairs during the Clinton administration. He worked for Mr. Menendez as a senior legislative aide from 1993 to 1995 and then as his national security adviser from 2001 to 2003.

In 2010, he and Dr. Melgen held a fund-raising dinner in Maryland for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Mr. Menendez was then leading. Dr. Melgen was an important fund-raiser for the senator in his committee efforts that year.

Senator Menendez could do himself a favor by making fewer assertions that are implausible on their face.

Another example is his claim that his failure to repay Melgen the $58,000 cost of two 2010 private jet trips to the Dominican Republic was "sloppy" or an "oversight." Menendez is one the least wealthy members of the U.S. Senate. His annual salary is $174,000.

If Menendez was planning to make Caribbean trips, would he really go on Melgen's private jet and pay through the nose an amount representing a big percentage of his net worth? It is obvious that he never intended to pay Melgen back.

Menendez' denial over the weekend that he accepted Melgen's hospitality in the way of hookers may be a flat-out lie, but at least it had the virtue of being plausible.  It was also categorical, unlike the convoluted statements that came out of his office back in November in which he did not directly deny the allegations, but instead attacked the source.

Related:

VIDEO: NBC Nightly News Reports on Menendez-Melgen Port Security Deal

Sen. Menendez Pushed 'Windfall' for Melgen in Dominican Port Security Deal