12-02-2016  8:42 pm      •     

Sen. Robert Menendez has denied wrongdoing regarding several recent claims, including that he partied with prostitutes while on trips to the Dominican Republic.

A memo of talking points sent to supporters by his communications director Tricia Enright after those claims and others surfaced calls for his supporters to "step back, take a breath and look at the facts." The memo of talking points was obtained by CNN.

The memo questions both the source - "the right wing blogosphere" - and the timing - "the first attacks were unleashed just days before the November elections" - of the claims.

Menendez, a Democrat, denied the claims last year and did so again in a television interview with CNN Monday.

Since then, additional elements have since emerged, including that the senator questioned federal officials' probes into a friend and campaign donor's financial affairs. A source close to Menendez confirmed that claim is true but did not elaborate. The senator addressed that claim with reporters Thursday, saying that he had "raised concerns ... over policy and over ambiguities that are difficult for medical providers to understand and to seek a clarification of that."

Claims have also arisen that Menendez advocated for a port company in which he owned stock.

The talking points generally rebut the claims, reading, "Let's start by considering the source of these attacks: the right-wing blogosphere has spread these smears from the beginning."

"There is not one source who has come forward to back up the claims and not one piece of evidence that has been produced to back up the right wing machine's smears," the memo continues. "All of the stories lead back to one anonymous "tipster" who spent seven months before the elections peddling unsubstantiated smears to the FBI, and when that didn't work, set up his own website to repeat them... That's it -- no evidence, no sources speaking to major news outlets, nothing. Just anonymous smears on right-wing blogs."

The memo suggests further claims may be unsubstantiated because, "Targeting Menendez on prostitutes didn't work. Targeting him on the flights has been easily corrected."

Last month, Menendez paid approximately $58,500 to a friend and campaign donor for several flights he took in 2010, chalking up the lapse in payment to his busy schedule.

The friend and donor, Salomon Melgen, is the same friend Menendez intervened with federal authorities on behalf of.

"Many of the questions being asked of Sen. Menendez were answered months ago," the memo reads. "Shouldn't we be asking who is behind this right wing and/or Republican coordinated effort?"

 

Menendez intervened in federal audit on behalf of friend Melgen

Menendez also questioned decisions made by federal health officials about his friend and major donor Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor tied to a recent scandal surrounding Menendez, a source close to the senator confirmed Thursday.

As first reported by The Washington Post, Menendez "raised concerns" with the officials' conclusion that Melgen had overbilled the federal government by $8.9 million in Medicare and Medicaid payments when treating patients at his West Palm Beach clinic.

In 2009, the New Jersey senator first contacted federal authorities about the government's assessment of Melgen. Taking the issue up with the director in charge of Medicare payments, Menendez claimed it was unfair to penalize the doctor "because the billing rules were ambiguous."

The Post, however, reported that Melgen was billing the government three to four times for injections from a single vial to treat macular degeneration.

Menendez again met with federal officials in 2012 to dispute the auditors' appraisal of Melgen's billing. The agency had demanded that Melgen repay the nearly $9 million in overbilling.

When asked by CNN Thursday about the new billing allegations, Melgen declined to immediately answer the question but said he would later return with a comment.

Separately, Melgen has made headlines recently for providing plane rides for Menendez in 2010 to the Dominican Republic--trips the senator didn't pay for until January of this year.

Menendez told CNN in an exclusive TV interview earlier this week that the pay discrepancy--worth nearly $60,000--was simply an oversight.

"I was in a big travel schedule in 2010 as the chair of the (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), plus my own campaign getting ready for a re-election cycle and in the process of all of that, it unfortunately fell through the cracks," he told CNN's Dana Bash, adding that when it came to his attention the payment had not taken place, he "personally paid" for it in order to meet his obligation.

Menendez, however, has also been in some hot water for raising questions before administration officials about a port security contract for a company in which Melgen has a stake. The company had a contract to screen cargo that went through Dominican ports, but Menendez argued last July during a Senate subcommittee hearing that Dominican authorities didn't want to "live by" the contract.

Asked if he used his influence to help Melgen, Menendez told Bash: "I have always advocated for issues and I have advocated for policies, and that's what I have done across the board."

Melgen's offices were raided by FBI agents and health care investigators last week as part of a fraud probe, fueling further speculation about his ties to Menendez. An aide to the senator, however, told the Post that Menendez was unaware Melgen was under formal investigation for possible fraud until the raid last week.

 

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