Sen. Menendez declared trips with Florida doctor two years after taking them

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The senior US senator from New Jersey Robert Menendez is a big deal in Washington.  He sits on important committees – banking, finance, and is set to chair the prestigious foreign relations committee.

So when a major news outlet – in this case, the Miami herald, picks up on lingering internet blog chatter that a Florida based doctor is suspected of providing free trips on a private jet, and prostitutes to senator Menendez…well, then it becomes fodder for the mainstream media.

To be clear, this is a story of loose connections and allegations against a powerful politician bolstered by today’s non-stop 24-hour news cycle.

It begins with two questions: Did Menendez break any Senate rules by flying on political supporter’s private jet to the Dominican Republic?

And did that supporter, Florida-based eye doctor Salomon Melgen – provide the senator with prostitutes during those visits?

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The Menendez-Melgen connection hit the national news wire Wednesday presumably for two reasons: first, for the FBI’s ongoing raid of the doctor’s office for an undisclosed investigation and, second, because major news outlets – in this case, the Miami Herald and Fox News picked up on blogging from the conservative website “The Daily Caller” – which spent the last several months posting articles sourced from a tipster who claims Dr. Melgen set up Menendez with underage prostitutes during their visits to the Dominican Republic.

This anonymous tipster contacted a prominent Washington-based government watchdog group last year to detail his alleged proof of Menendez’ wrongdoing.

But the executive director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – or CREW, says in the end – even if there is a kernel of truth to any of these allegations, her watchdog group couldn’t even verify if the accuser was a real person…and referred the allegations to the FBI.

“In addition to refusing to speak with us by phone, he also refused to speak with ABC news and the FBI by phone, so those things combined seriously undermined the credibility of his allegations”, said Melanie Sloan, CREWS’S executive director.

Sen. Menendez vigorously denies the allegations first published by the Daily Caller and then by other news outlets.

A spokesman told Pix11, “Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen’s plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false.”

Sloan says Senator Menendez’s accusers – whoever they really are – have won this round of what she calls a political smear campaign, to a certain extent.

“It certainly means that they are getting what they wanted, because the people behind this clearly didn’t want a thorough FBI investigation. Instead they’ve just ensured that it would appear in the press so Mr. Menendez is forced to defend against unsubstantiated allegations from an anonymous source,” said Sloan.

Senator Menendez’s press secretary told PIX11 that their staff’s independent review — conducted over the last several months — of his travel with Dr. Melgen in 2010 — turned up one official campaign trip, and two personal trips paid for by Dr. Melgen.

Menendez’s press secretary says the senator reimbursed his friend Dr. Melgen on January 4th of this year, more than two years after the trips. When asked why it took so long for Menendez – a veteran politician, to realize he needed to address those gifted trips, his press secretary tells us it was an oversight, and once it was discovered, it was rectified immediately.