Senator Robert Menendez was never a distinguished choice for chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the position he ascended to this month by virtue of seniority. Concerns about that quality gap have sharply escalated amid new disclosures about Mr. Menendez’s use of his position to advance the financial interests of a friend and big donor. Instead of trying to protect Mr. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, needs to remove his gavel, at least pending credible resolution by the Senate Ethics Committee of the swirling accusations of misconduct.
At issue are the curious dealings between Mr. Menendez and his close friend and benefactor Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye surgeon and major Democratic donor. The senator’s efforts to help Dr. Melgen, part-owner of a firm that had a long-dormant contract with the Dominican Republic to provide port security, revive that lucrative contract — deemed an exorbitant giveaway by business leaders and government officials there — were detailed in an article in The Times last week by Raymond Hernandez and Frances Robles. The contract’s dubious legitimacy and Dr. Melgen’s lack of experience in border security issuesdid not deter Mr. Menendez from pressing State and Commerce Department officials to insist that the contract be honored, including at a hearing in July of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee over which he presided.
Compounding the unseemliness, Senator Menendez’s help came as Dr. Melgen was in the process of making donations totaling $700,000 to Majority PAC, a Democratic “super PAC” set up by former aides to Mr. Reid. Majority PAC ended up shoveling $582,500 to Mr. Menendez’s 2012 re-election campaign.