NJ newspaper urges Sen. Menendez to ‘break his silence’

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is facing pressure from his state’s largest newspaper to address a cloud of scandalous allegations.

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In an editorial Sunday, the Newark Star-Ledger said the scandal surrounding the senator raised “serious doubts about his fitness to serve as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.”

“Before he takes that post, Menendez needs to break his silence and explain himself,” wrote the editorial board.

Menendez is facing a Senate ethics probe and an FBI investigation into a donor, who is suspected of providing him with free trips on his private jet and underage prostitutes during visits to the Dominican Republic, according to reports from the media website The Daily Caller and a complaint filed with the Justice Department by a watchdog group.

Menendez’s office acknowledged last week that the senator reimbursed the donor for two previously undisclosed flights on his private jet, but has denied the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated.

Ethics concerns grew with a New York Times report that Menendez helped the donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, win a contract for a Florida company he held an ownership stake in.

The senator has yet to address the allegations.

In the editorial, the Star-Ledger dismissed the allegations about prostitution, saying there was “no credible evidence to support that accusation.”

“That charge emerged a few days before November’s election, and has all the markings of a dirty trick,” the paper says. 

But the editorial raises questions about Menendez’s relationship with Melgen and the undisclosed trips he took on the donor’s private jet.

“We are supposed to believe this was an oversight, as a spokesman for Menendez claims. Sure. Why would anyone remember something so routine and mundane as a rich guy whisking you off to an exotic vacation in the Caribbean in a private jet? If the senator has no better explanation, he will richly deserve the reprimand the full Senate will no doubt impose on him,” says the editorial.

The paper also calls on Menendez to address the Times report, questioning if the senator used “his position on the Foreign Affairs Committee to advocate for his friend’s business interests.”

The allegations come as the New Jersey senator is taking a prominent role as a member of a bipartisan Senate group pushing an immigration-overhaul framework.

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he had the “utmost confidence” in Menendez and said he believed his colleague had done “nothing wrong.”

“As to the rest of the investigation, that will have to be handled the way they're all handled around here, in-depth, and the Ethics Committee are in the paper today. They're taking a look at it,” said Reid.