The Trial No One Is Talking About: New Jersey Senator Accused of Accepting Bribes

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has been accused of accepting $60,000 from a donor in return for political favors.

On Thursday, prosecutors built their case, saying that Salomon Melgen and his family in May 2012 gave the money to the New Jersey Democratic Party and Menendez’s legal defense fund as a bribe. The two men are on trial after being charged with “conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud, and related charges,” Philly.com reported.

Among other things, Menendez reportedly helped Melgen obtain visas for his foreign mistresses. Melgen was convicted earlier this year on 67 charges related to health care fraud and his scheme stealing $105 million from Medicare.

Why isn’t this sordid political drama all over the news? Columnist Phil Kerpen joined radio Friday to share the details from a trial that seems to be flying under everyone’s radar.

This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

GLENN: We want to get Phil Kerpen on because the Menendez trial, this is a senator who is still a sitting senator and is a codefendant on 22 felony counts of fraud, bribery, and related offensive -- related offenses.

Nobody is covering this.

STU: That's incredible. I mean, I -- you would think this is a gigantic story. And I feel like, is it one of those stories where, you know, the media is just doing it out of bias? Is it that they think there really is nothing to this?

GLENN: Because this is not a -- this is a senator, a Democratic senator, and he's still a member of good standing on the Senate Democratic caucus.

He -- he's going through a trial, 22 felony accounts.

STU: And they won't even say they should -- they will ask him to resign if he's convicted.

GLENN: So Phil Kerpen has been following this. And we wanted to get him on. Phil, how are you?

PHIL: I'm doing great, Glenn. It's been a while. How are you?

GLENN: I know. It's been a while. It's great to talk to you.

You're covering this. You're following it. And break it down, because I have absolutely really no idea what this is about, because nobody is covering it.

PHIL: This trial has a little bit of everything. And there is a lot of print coverage. There are probably four or five print reporters that have been in the courtroom every day. There is close to zero national TV coverage of this. In fact, media research center did a study. They found that, I think, CBS has spent 22 seconds on this trial in the first three weeks and NBC has spent zero.

GLENN: Unbelievable.

STU: Jeez.

PHIL: And it's not because this trial wouldn't be an incredible ratings boon for them. Because this trial features multiple international supermodels. It features private it's just, luxury resorts in the Caribbean, and then Paris. I mean, it's got all these stunning visuals that should be a huge ratings boom. And yet, for whatever reason, TV has completely ignored it.

But here's the basic version of the facts in this case. An eye doctor from Palm Beach, Florida, Solamon Melgen, developed a very special relationship with Senator Menendez, where he gave the senator access to his private jet whenever he wanted it, to fly wherever he wanted, and access to his luxury resort villa at Casa de Campo, one of the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. He paid for his hotel rooms in Paris when he wanted to go there.

GLENN: Jeez.

PHIL: And they basically lived -- together, they lived this massive international luxury lifestyle.

And all of it, by the way, was paid for with money stolen from me and you and everyone listening to this, through Medicare fraud. The doctor who was the senator's co-defendant, has already been convicted in a separate case of stealing $105 million for Medicare in one of the largest Medicare fraud schemes in history.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh.

PHIL: So you have this massive international luxury lifestyle, all with money stolen from us.

STU: Wow.

GLENN: And you have -- you know, Medicare. This should be -- this is -- if -- if a Republican were doing this, any Republican, this would be everywhere. Non-stop.

PHIL: Well, they would have the day the indictment came down, if not before. I mean, this guy was indicted two years ago. He's only finally going to trial now. He stayed in the Senate the entire time. And the reason why there are bribery charges here is that in exchange for this international luxury lifestyle, the senator is accused of doing three things for Dr. Melgen. Number one, he got visas for all his supermodel girlfriends. Svitlana Buchyk from the Ukraine and Juliana Lopes from Brazil and a 22-year-old model named Roseal Polanco (phonetic) from the Dominican Republic. In the case of the model from the Dominican, she had already been rejected for her visa, when Menendez stepped in and said, "Do whatever it takes." And he got the visa approved. So there were the visas for the girl.

GLENN: Phil, Phil, Phil, America cannot have enough global supermodels.

PHIL: I know. A lot of people -- a lot of people look at it, and say, he did nothing wrong on that one.

GLENN: Yeah, there's nothing wrong with that. Supermodels, they can all come in. At night. In a tunnel. I don't care.

PHIL: Yeah.

GLENN: Anyway, go ahead.

PHIL: The second thing was a port security contract in the Dominican Republic. And this is kind of amazing because this guy was an eye doctor. He had no background in security of any kind. But basically, he bought a disused -- a not-honored port security contract that the Dominican Republic had signed with a company and that said, we're not going to honor that contract for whatever reason.

This guy Melgen buys the contract and then has Menendez go to bat with the State Department and with Customs and Border Control and with the Commerce Department and tries to get the entire US government to pressure the Dominican, to honor this contract, which would have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Melgen. There was testimony just yesterday from a customs and border control official, who said that Senator Menendez called her and said, do not allow any security equipment to go to the Dominican Republic, until they honor my buddy's contract.

And the official said, she thought it was very odd that a US senator was trying to undermine the law enforcement mission of customs and border patrol. So that was the second thing, was trying to steer this contract. And the third, and they've just started hearing testimony on this. I think this coming week is going to be really exclusive on this. The third thing and by far the worst in my judgment is that he actually tried to intervene with HHS to have the Medicare fraud investigation dropped.

Basically, he wanted them to say that it was okay for Melgen to massively overbill Medicare by millions and millions of dollars, and he went to extraordinary length on that. In fact, at one point, he had a meeting with the HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, with Harry Reid, in Harry Reid's US capitol office, asking her to intervene and to drop the overbilling dispute.

STU: This is insane. This is an insane story. And especially when you can put it up to the news kind of, of the day, where everybody in the media is talking about Tom Price taking flights that cost $1 million.

GLENN: I was just going to say.

STU: And I'm not excited about that story by any means. We're talking about over $100 million. We've got supermodels, private jet flights, all sorts of crazy government contract business.

GLENN: And a very powerful senator.

STU: Yeah. And 22 --

PHIL: He was chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, in fact. And, you know, that was one of the things.

You know, when he was pressuring the State Department to inter -- to intercede with the Dominican and push this port security contract to his friend, he told him, if you don't do it, I'm going to have hearings in my committee. So he was using his official position he pretty clearly. And that's, I think, going to make his defense -- his defense argument -- he's basically making two arguments in his defense, which I find very unpersuasive. We'll see what the jury thinks, of course. He doesn't dispute at all that these facts happened. But what he says is -- I call it the Biz Markie defense. He says, we were just friends. We were just friends. A friend lets a friend use his jet and his resort. And a friend helps his friend with visas and government contracts. It was all just friendship. It wasn't bribery.

To me, if being friends with the person who, you know, corrupts his official office so that you can both live an international high life together, if somehow friendship makes that legal, then the laws are very flawed in this country.

GLENN: Yeah.

PHIL: If that's legal, then the law is not sufficient. Because that should not be legal. It's not ethical. It's not acceptable. This friendship defense is sort of one of the central arguments. The other is based on the McDonald decision at the Supreme Court. The Bob McDonald decision, which was -- which really narrowed the definition of official acts. And they're trying to argue that, look, as -- as a senator, he's not -- he didn't take any official actions when he was pressing the executive branch to do things like approve visas or pressure port security contracts or drop a billing dispute. Because a senator can only vote on legislation as an official act. And the government's response to that argument is basically, you know, if that's right, then the bribery statute would allow putting a PayPal account up on a senator's website and saying give me $50,000 and I'll advocate whatever your issue is with the executive branch. That can't be the case.

But we'll find out. I mean, we'll see in this trial, whether the definition of official act is now so narrow, that a senator can take bribes in exchange for taking action, you know, with respect to the executive branch. And so the defense arguments here, in my judgment, don't dispute any of the corrupt facts. And therefore, even if somehow he's acquitted, which I consider unlikely, but even if somehow he's acquitted, if the Senate ethics committee is worthy of his name, he ought to be kicked out of the Senate anyway. Because he doesn't dispute that he did all these things.

GLENN: So, Phil, can you put this on a scale? Can you compare this to any other -- I mean, this is huge. Can you compare this to any other scandal that you've seen in --

PHIL: I mean, there's really no comparison to anything at least in our lifetimes. I mean, there was some -- there was a senator who was kicked out for corruption in the '40s. I think. I don't know too much of the details of that case. But we've never seen anything quite like this, just the scale and the scope and the brazenness of it. Here's something that's kind of interesting: You know, one of the things the prosecution keeps saying in their opening statement is he did all of this for a man who wasn't even a constituent. Because the doctor is from Palm Beach, Florida. Menendez is a senator from New Jersey. He basically was dedicating his office to the service of somebody who wasn't even a constituent. And Menendez's lawyers responded, well, no. US Senate is a national office, so everyone in America is his constituent.

GLENN: Oh, my gosh.

PHIL: And the judge said, no, I don't think so. And he actually ordered briefing on the definition of the word constituent. So...

GLENN: Wow.

STU: Are they -- that's amazing. Certainly if this was Republican, every media member would go to every Republican and ask them their opinion on Menendez.

GLENN: Yeah. To disavow him.

STU: Yeah. To disavow him. Will you step down? Has there been any attempt at that. And are the reason why the Democrats are sticking by them because they think Christie will -- you know, since he's still in office for a few more weeks, it seems, that he would just, you know, give a Republican the office if he has to step down and they would have an advantage in the Senate.

PHIL: You know, the media showed a little bit of interest a few weeks ago, right when the trial started. CNN did some questioning. CNN has actually done pretty good coverage of this trial on their website. But almost nothing on the TV.

GLENN: Well, you only have 24 hours.

PHIL: Right. You only have 24 hours. Some of the Democrats have been asked. Chuck Schumer has been asked. There have been some RNC trackers out asking sort of this -- the amazing thing to me is the -- the Democrats, a lot of Democrats have been asked this question: Do you think Menendez should resign if he's convicted? And they won't even say yes to that. They'll kind of say, oh, I don't know. He'll have appeals. A convicted felon in the Senate might be all right.

GLENN: What?

PHIL: No, no, no.

GLENN: So you're a convicted felon -- you're a convicted felon. You lose your right to vote, but not you lose your right to vote in the Senate?

PHIL: Correct.

GLENN: That's crazy.

PHIL: Under the constitution, you need a two-thirds vote. So if they do an expulsion vote and the Democrats want to rally behind him, they could cast one of the worst votes of their career and actually keep him there.

GLENN: He'll stay.

PHIL: But if you vote to let a convicted bribe-taking felon senator stay in there, I think that's a vote you'll have a problem with for the rest of your career, which may be brief.

Now, you're correct. The reason why they want to stall and run out the clock, is if a conviction comes down next month, they're going to be looking at the calendar and saying, hmm, Governor Christie is only in office until January 16th. All the polls show that Bill Murphy, the Democrat, is probably going to win that race in November. So if we can somehow stall and run out the clock and say, oh, he's pursuing appeals, and maybe he'll announce a leave of absence, which has no legal meaning. And get to January 16th, then he can resign, and we'll have a Democratic governor appointing a replacement instead of a Republican.

So they're just trying to run out the clock for political advantage, I think, is what's happening.

GLENN: Phil, thank you so much. We'll talk to you again in a couple of weeks, as this trial continues. I'd love to get some updates from you. Thank you so much.

STU: Phil Kerpen is the president of American Commitment. And you can probably read -- his -- he raised a lot of really great opinion pieces as well. They're all over the web.

GLENN: Great opinion pieces.

STU: AmericanCommitment.org is the site.

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