We now know that Senator Robert Menendez intervened in a Medicare dispute involving the close friend and donor he's tried to distance himself from recently. But the conservative media is still convinced that this scandal is about Dominican prostitutes.
The Washington Post's Carol D. Leonnig and Jerry Markon reported last night that Menendez aides revealed the Senator's contact with federal health-care officials regarding a Medicare overbilling investigation. The subject of the case was Salomon Melgen, a Florida optometrist found to have overcharged Medicare for nearly $9 million at his clinic. Menendez called up the investigating officials in 2009, trying to convince them to lay off Melgen (who just happens to be a major Menendez donor). The FBI raided Melgen's offices last week, and nonpartisan watchdog groups are saying that his cozy relationship Menendez is particularly eyebrow-raising, even by D.C. standards.
But even with this juicy story line developing over health-care fraud, conservative media outlets remain fixated on Menendez's alleged cavorting with Dominican prostitutes on Melgen's dime. The version of events promoted by the likes of The Daily Caller suggests that Menendez is trying to rid himself of Melgen because of a trip they took to the Dominican Republic. It is true that Melgen flew the senator to his mansion in Casa de Campo. It's also true that Menendez spent a huge chunk of his personal wealth paying him back for that flight after their relationship came under public scrutiny. But as we noted previously, the evidence that they hired prostitutes (some supposedly underage) there is scant at best. Residents of the Dominican resort don't think they did—one told The Star-Ledger's Salvador Rizzo, "I don’t really think people come here for prostitutes."
The Medicare fraud developments didn't even register as a blip on the conservative news radar. Fox News' website ran a column from Michael Goodwin saying that Sen. Menendez is "about to find out who his friends in Washington really are," because he, "stands accused of going to the Dominican Republic to bed prostitutes, some underage." No mention of his Medicare overpayment intervention. The Daily Caller has an update about the status of the FBI investigation, but continues to insist that it's about "allegations that he slept with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic" instead of Melgen's Medicare fraud. And when they teased the Washington Post story on Twitter, The Daily Caller changed the hook to this bombshell insight:
Washington Post: Prostitutes occasionally work resort at center of Menendez sex scandal - bit.ly/14FL77f— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) February 7, 2013
That's right, prostitutes can be found in the general vicinity of where Menendez vacationed. Of course, no one can yet say whether Mendendez did or didn't solicit Dominican prostitutes—or whether or not he tried to cover up his donor friend's Medicare fraud. But the evidence stacking up behind one scenario is undoubtedly stronger than it is for the other:
Menendez seems to be guilty of basically everything other than what the Daily Caller accused him of: washingtonpost.com/politics/sen-m…— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) February 7, 2013
EXCLU WaPo story about alleged Menendez party locale in DR reveals… nothing about Menendez washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/styl…— daveweigel (@daveweigel) February 7, 2013
Intriguing WaPo story suggests Menendez troubles have more to do with an alleged Melgen Medicare scam than prostitutes. washingtonpost.com/politics/sen-m…— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) February 7, 2013