Questions remain as to whether Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) violated Senate ethics rules by failing to disclose or seek approval for air travel and lodging provided by a wealthy campaign donor.
A New Jersey Republican organization has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Menendez based on public records and media reports surrounding a series of flights to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republican between 2010 and 2012.
The request highlights four trips Menendez appears to have made on a corporate jet owned by Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who has donated more than $220,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since 1993. Melgen gave at least $12,600 to Menendez during that period.
Politico reported Monday that Department of Homeland Security flight records “showed that Menendez was not on the Melgen plane for one of those trips, an April flight to the Dominican Republic.”
However, evidence suggests that Menendez likely did travel on Melgen’s plane during trips made in May 2010, September 2010, and March 2011.
Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright did not respond to a request seeking confirmation of the senator’s travel schedule on those particular dates. She previously said that she “didn’t know anything about” the Ethics Committee request.
The Transportation Security Administration did not return a request for comment on the availability of additional passenger manifests.
Flight records obtained by the Free Beacon show that Melgen’s plane flew from Atlanta, Ga., to La Romana, Dominican Republic, on the evening of May 14, 2010. That flight occurred several hours after Menendez delivered the keynote address at a Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials reception in Atlanta.
The plane then flew from La Romana to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on May 16, 2010. Records also indicate that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez chaired at the time, raised more than $70,000 from Puerto Rican donors on May 17, 2010.
La Romana is the site of Casa de Campo, a luxury resort owned by Melgen. A local website published an account of a dinner honoring Menendez at Melgen’s residence.
The DSCC paid Melgen’s company $5,380 for air travel one week later. Menendez’s campaign and political action committee made more than $3,200 worth of payments to hotels in Puerto Rico around the same time.
Melgen’s plane flew from West Palm Beach, Fla., to Teterboro, N.J., before continuing to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, on Sept. 3, 2010, records show.
Menendez’s official Senate travel records indicate he was unaccounted for between that date and Sept. 6, 2010, when Melgen’s plane returned to the United States.
Records also suggest that Menendez may have traveled on Melgen’s plane on March 26, 2011. The plane flew from West Palm Beach to Puerto Rico on the 26th before flying to Washington, D.C., (via West Palm Beach) on the 29th.
Political donation records suggest that Menendez’s campaign and political action committee held a fundraising event in Puerto Rico on or around March 27, as they reported raising a combined $80,400 from Puerto Rican donors around that time.
Menendez missed a Senate vote on March 28, 2011, to confirm the nomination of U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino.
Senate rules allow members to accept travel and lodging from private parties for official business-related activity as long as it is approved by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Senators may also accept private “gifts” of travel and lodging. However, they must obtain written approval for all gifts exceeding $250 in value and disclose them on annual financial reports.
Menendez’s disclosure reports between 2010 and 2012 contain no mention of the flights in question or any lodging, indicating that he did not receive committee approval for a personal gift exemption.
“Under any analysis, there is reason to believe that Senator Menendez has accepted a prohibited gift of private air travel,” the GOP ethics complaint states.
If Menendez did receive approval for the gifts but failed to disclose them, it could warrant a criminal charge for making false statements on a federal government filing.
The Senate Code of Official Conduct also requires members to refrain from “improper conduct reflecting on the Senate.”