Report: Senate ethics panel reviewing Menendez ties to donor

The Senate Ethics Committee is looking into claims that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) acted improperly by taking gifts from Florida doctor and political donor Salomon Melgen by flying to the Dominican Republic on his private plane, The Washington Post reports

Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), the committee's ranking Republican, told the Post that the panel is "following established procedures" after learning of an FBI raid Tuesday on Melgen's home in West Palm Beach, Fla. 

News of the Senate ethics panel's interest in Menendez's connection to Melgen comes after another report Friday that the New Jersey Democrat pressed members of the Obama administration to lift restrictions on a massive business deal to help his friend. 

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The Miami Herald reported on an exchange from a July hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee in which Menendez referenced a contract the government of the Dominican Republic had awarded to a company owned by Dr. Salomon Melgen.

“You have another company that has American investors that ... has a contract actually given to it by the — ratified by the Dominican Congress — to do X-ray of all of the cargo that goes through the ports,” Menendez said, in reference to Melgen’s company. “And they don’t want to live by that contract either.”

Menendez’s office told The Herald it’s normal for members to advocate on behalf of U.S. businesses abroad, and that the purpose of the contract was to X-ray cargo coming in to the country, and was therefore “an issue of protecting our national security.”

The allegation draws Menendez closer to Melgen, whom he has described as “a friend and political supporter.”

A team of FBI agents stormed Melgen’s Florida business on Tuesday. The FBI action followed allegations by the conservative The Daily Caller website that Menendez had sex with Dominican prostitutes on trips arranged by Melgen. 

Menendez denied the allegations of sexual impropriety, saying they were manufactured by The Daily Caller ahead of his election last November. He reimbursed Melgen’s company $58,500, the cost of the two trips from personal funds, sparking a bout of media coverage.

Melgen contributed to Menendez’s campaign and took him on at least three trips to the Dominican Republic aboard his private plane in 2010.

It is unclear whether the FBI’s investigation of Melgen is targeting him for outstanding back taxes, his political contributions to Menendez and other lawmakers, or allegations over engaging with prostitutes.