The Senate Ethics Committee is reviewing whether Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., inappropriately accepted gifts from a political donor who is under investigation by federal investigators.
"We are aware of the news reports regarding the FBI raid on Dr. Melgen's office," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the top Republican on the ethics committee, said to CBS News in a statement. "The Ethics Committee will follow its established procedures in this matter."
Late Tuesday night, the FBI and the Health and Human Services Department raided the West Palm Beach, Fla., offices belonging to Dr. Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor who has made large donations to Menendez, the New Jersey State Democratic Committee and other politicians. The FBI has not said why it was raiding Melgen's office Tuesday night, but according to the Miami Herald, records show that Melgen has an outstanding IRS lien of $11.1 million for taxes owed from 2006 to 2009. The HHS Office of the Inspector General, meanwhile, is responsible for health care fraud cases (involving Medicare and Medicaid). HHS would not comment on the FBI's involvement, though it is not unheard of for the FBI to participate in these types of investigations.
Menendez's ties to Melgen came under scrutiny late last year, after a report was published alleging that Menendez flew to the Dominican Republic and slept with prostitutes at a resort in which Melgen has a home. Menendez on Wednesday released a statement. Then on Wednesday evening, Menendez's office said the senator was reimbursing Melgen $58,000 for two of three trips he took on Melgen's plane to the Dominican Republic in 2010.
Ethics rules dictate that senators must promptly repay donors for such gifts unless the donor is a personal friend. In that case, written approval from the ethics committee is required for gifts exceeding $250. Menendez made no public disclosure until this week of the two trips for which he reimbursed Melgen. "The senator paid for the two trips out of his personal account and no reporting requirements apply," Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said this week.
The ethics committee, meanwhile, is obliged to review any complaints or information suggesting a senator may have violated ethics rules.
The review comes as Menendez is gaining a higher profile in the Senate: The Cuban-American senator is part of the bipartisan "gang of eight" that is drafting immigration legislation, and he also is the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.