POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Menendez trial: Did he threaten a Senate hearing?

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

A large part of the government’s case Thursday focused on Sen. Bob Menendez going to bat with the state department for his friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen.

In 2012, Melgen was trying to get the Dominican Republic to abide by their port security contract. The senator met face to face with the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic that May seeking his intervention.

Email exchanges later stated the senator, who was a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, had threatened to hold a hearing if the issue wasn’t resolved that summer. In testimony, a then-deputy assistant secretary, Todd Robinson, says he worked to resolve the issue. He said the threat was on his mind and emailed other staffers saying ” … don’t let this fall through the cracks.”

Robinson testified the staff worked to avoid a hearing because it’s time consuming to prepare for one, anything could come up and it was ” … not likely to be a friendly hearing.”

Robinson, who later became ambassador to Guatemala, said he spoke by phone with the doctor and an aide and later met with both face to face, and they gave a favorable report to the senator. Robinson says it was common for members of Congress or businesses to ask for help, but not with a threat of a hearing.

The defense tried to minimize the threat by collecting testimony that such a hearing would have been in public with television cameras and more. And, that Melgen’s contract was part of a bigger issue — concerns of drug smuggling and corruption in the Dominican Republic jeopardizing the security of cargo bound for the U.S.

Late Thursday, the government revealed fundraisers for the senator soliciting $60,000 in campaign donations from the doctor. After all the other testimony, it was a reminder to the jury of Melgen’s wealth and a senator who had lobbied the government for the doctor.

The prosecution calls it bribery. The defense says they were just friends. The trial resumes Monday.