Menendez responds to Senate Ethics Committee rebuke

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. Frank Pallone called a news conference to show their support for two pieces of legislation. The first would create more transparency from pharmaceutical companies.

“Five of them already spent $45 billion of their tax cuts buying back their own stock. That’s a slap in the face to every American who has ever had to skip a refill or break a pill in half,” Menendez said.

United States spending on prescription drugs has dramatically increased from around $20 billion in 1984 to $297 billion in 2014, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

“If there’s transparency and you know when these price hikes take place, then the public is outraged, the media finds out about it and the pharmaceutical companies have to address it,” Pallone said.

But the conversation quickly shifted when Menendez responded for the first time to the Senate Ethics Committee’s letter that was sent last week.

The bipartisan Senate Ethic Committee “severely admonished” Menendez for aiding his friend Dr. Salomon Melgen, writing that his actions “brought discredit upon the Senate.”

Menendez faced federal bribery and corruption charges stemming from his longtime friendship with Melgen, who was recently convicted of Medicare fraud. The senator’s case ended in a mistrial last fall.

“And ultimately all of it was dismissed by a Republican administration’s Department of Justice,” Menendez said. “So while I’m disappointed in the Committee’s characterizations, their report doesn’t change any of those facts.”

Menendez also said there was nothing new about the report.

“I have acknowledged before, and will again today, that mistakes were made,” Menendez said. “I thought what we were doing was totally legitimate, and in retrospect obviously on some of those I was wrong and we corrected it and we are clear about that moving forward.”

But the topic of ethics wasn’t over yet. Menendez made allegations against his opponent in the Senate Race, Bob Hugin, the former CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Celgene.

Menendez called Hugin “unethical,” citing a $280 million settlement over allegations Celgene had pushed the sale of a cancer drug without disclosing it could put patients at risk of developing blood clots.

“Who does that?” Menendez asked. “Bob Hugin did that as the CEO of Celgene, at least that’s what the suit alleges.”

He also criticized Celgene for allegedly hiking the price of the cancer drug and blocking competitors from developing generics.

“I think those actions are unethical and I think they’re despicable particularly when we’re talking about cancer patients,” Menendez said.

Hugin’s campaign fired back, asking, “Why hasn’t Bob Menendez repudiated the savage treatment of patients by his convicted felon ‘dear friend’ Salomon Melgen.”