Lautenberg calls Menendez controversy ‘a terrible tragedy’

January 31, 2013

Sen. Bob Menendez's (D-N.J.) New Jersey colleague has responded to the growing controversy surrounding the senator's ties to a doctor who was recently raided, and he's not exactly doing Menendez any favors.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), in comments reported by the Star-Ledger, left open the possibility that the allegations against Menendez could have merit:

"If there are infractions as they are reported, it’s too bad," Lautenberg told reporters.

...

"There a lot that’s said and covered, but I for one know Bob as a very capable United States senator, and I’m sorry to see him in this position," Lautenberg said. "But I can’t give you anything more. Don’t want to. Don’t know to."

...

Lautenberg later added he had not spoken to Menendez about the accusations but called them "devastating."

"(He) has built an almost sterling reputation for a lot of years and our hope is that this, what we’re hearing, is not as it’s presented," Lautenberg said. "I think Bob will survive this with his good work. This is a terrible tragedy. And we’re not yet sure what all of the facts are."

When your colleague is in trouble, the appropriate reaction for a politician is generally to call the allegations baseless and express confidence that your colleague is innocent.

About the last thing you should do is entertain the idea that the allegations may be true. But that's what Lautenberg seems to be doing here, calling it "too bad," "devastating," and a "terrible tragedy."

Caley Gray, a Lautenberg spokesman, told The Fix that the quotes were selectively included and that Lautenberg stood up for Menendez in the interview.

The offices of the doctor, Salomon Melgen, were raided Tuesday and Wednesday. The doctor has provided Menendez with multiple trips to the Dominican Republic in recent years, though Menendez didn't pay for two of the trips until early this month (a total of $58,500) -- after the media began digging into the relationship.

Senators must have written approval from the ethics committee for gifts over $250.

In addition, the conservative Web site The Daily Caller has accused Menendez of engaging with prostitutes during the trips -- something Menendez on Wednesday denied.

Menendez, notably, has declined to take sides in Lautenberg's potential primary with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and he wouldn't say this weekend whether Booker's early entry -- before Lautenberg announced whether he'll run again -- was disrespectful.

The post was updated at 4:49 p.m. with comment from Lautenberg's office.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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