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Sen. Robert Menendez’s chief of staff sent an email to some of his boss’s closest supporters Wednesday that supplies talking points to combat news reports linking the New Jersey Democrat to a potential travel and ethics scandal. The missive offers an inside glimpse into the behind-the-scenes public relations campaign to bolster Menendez’s fortunes.
“I’m attaching a memo with talking points I hope you’ll use as you appear before the media or whenever you have opportunities to set the record straight on behalf of Senator Menendez,” read the text of the email, sent Wednesday and obtained by CQ Roll Call.
A three-page memo attached to the email titled “Pushing Back Against the Politically-Motivated and False Attacks on Senator Menendez” began with an attack on a conservative blog that reported in November that the senator had traveled to the Dominican Republic for trysts with prostitutes.
“The smear campaign against Senator Menendez begins with The Daily Caller, a right wing, politically motivated web site owned by Tucker Carlson,” the memo stated.
The memo surfaced as Menendez on Wednesday also denied that he improperly intervened in a Medicare billing dispute between the government and Salomon Melgen, a Florida doctor and a major Menendez donor, whose office was searched by FBI agents last week.
The memo, apparently sent from a personal email address of Chief of Staff Danny O’Brien, encourages Menendez supporters to downplay two private jet rides the senator took two years ago and reimbursed last month. Menendez has acknowledged that he traveled on an aircraft belonging to Melgen.
Senators are permitted to accept gifts, including rides on private planes, from personal friends, but they must disclose such gifts on their financial disclosure forms. Menendez did not disclose them, and on Jan. 4 reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for the flights, his office said.
“Not reimbursing the flights earlier was a mistake,” the talking points stated, “but Senator Menendez rectified the mistake as soon as he discovered it.”
The email from O’Brien is part of a larger effort, first reported by Politico, by the Menendez camp to push back against questions about the lawmaker’s conduct. Politico reported that Menendez has re-enlisted his former top spokesman, Matt Miller, who served as a Justice Department spokesman and is close to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
The memo added, “Stop the Rush To Judgment!” and concluded: “Shouldn’t we be asking who is behind this right wing and/or Republican coordinated effort?”
The memo did not address recent news reports that Menendez intervened on behalf of companies in which Melgen held an ownership stake. The New York Times last week reported that Melgen was a part-owner of ICSSI, a Caribbean port-security firm, and that Menendez intervened on the company’s behalf regarding a contract worth as much as $500 million. It also reported that Melgen’s company had donated $700,000 to a super PAC that provided $582,500 to Mendendez’s 2012 re-election effort. Menendez won a second full term in November.
Pushing back on other reports that said Menendez intervened on Melgen’s behalf regarding Medicare contracts, Menendez told Hispanic media outlets at the Capitol, according to a report on abcnews.com , that he raised concerns “over policy and over ambiguities that are difficult for medical providers to understand and to seek a clarification of that.”
He told The Associated Press Wednesday that he didn’t act improperly in the matter.
“The bottom line is, we raised concerns with CMS over policy and over ambiguities that are difficult for medical providers to understand and to seek a clarification,” Menendez told the news agency, referring to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
O’Brien did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.
An earlier version of this article misspelled Salomon Melgen's name.