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Pressure builds on Sen. Robert Menendez: Is it enough to topple him?

The New Jersey senator is accused of political favors, bribery, and prostitution. But those charges are difficult to prove, and experts say Menendez has the popularity to ride out the political storm. 

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• The Washington Post reported Feb. 6 that Menendez questioned top federal health-care officials, in 2009 and 2012, about their finding that Melgen had overbilled the government $8.9 million in Medicare claims. Days later, reported New Jersey’s Star-Ledger, Melgen donated $30,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Menendez then chaired. (FBI agents and Medicare Fraud units have since raided Melgen’s eye clinic in Florida.)

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• The other major complaint involves allegations, first elaborated Feb. 10 in the New York Times, that Menendez tried to prevent the US from donating port security equipment to the Dominican Republic in order to protect the business interests of his friend.

• According to the Times, Menendez discouraged the Department of Homeland Security from donating the equipment because it would “undermine efforts by a private company,” with connections to Melgen, to protect the contract, worth as much as $500 million over 20 years.

• Further compounding the matter is a hefty $700,000 donation Melgen made to Majority PAC, a Super PAC created to elect Senate Democrats that ultimately made a $582,500 contribution to Menendez’s 2012 re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics

“Probably the most significant aspect of the allegations that have been made centers around the misuse of authority or undue influence,” says Dr. Harrison. “[Alleged favors were] not done on behalf of constituents … but on behalf of a campaign donor from another state. That’s what’s raising red flags in Washington.”

Adds Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., the allegations “revolve around one single person, a big contributor. Interventions on behalf of a contributor give the implication of a quid pro quo.”

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