When Senator Grassley’s Staff Tagged Menendez Staffers

This whole Menendez scandal is starting to spiral out of control. Just forget the problematic allegations of the “underage Dominican Republican prostitutes.” What has already been proven is bad enough.

Salon has a great little round up of the Senator’s escalating problems:

On Saturday, a New York Times editorial called on the New Jersey senator to hand in his Foreign Relations committee gavel while the Senate ethics committee investigates whether he exerted improper influence to help one of his top donors. On Sunday, his home state newspaper, the Star-Ledger, provided an exhaustive history of Menendez’s two-decade relationship with the donor, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, concluding that “when Melgen acts, Menendez reacts.” And this morning, the Times is reporting new details about the specific actions Menendez has taken on behalf of his benefactor.

If you think this is the first time that Senator Menendez has inappropriately contacted an agency on behalf of a benefactor, you’re wrong. A couple years back, investigators with Senator Grassley (my old shop) were looking into problems with devices that were going on the market over the protests of FDA reviewers. As the Wall Street Journal reported, it was “political lobbying” that was driving the scientific process inside the FDA to help a company based in New Jersey:

After the FDA’s second rejection of fast-track status, in September 2007, ReGen asked lawmakers from New Jersey, its home turf, for help. Supporters included Democrats Sen. Robert Menendez; Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Steve Rothman of Hackensack; and Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Messrs. Menendez, Lautenberg and Rothman signed a letter to the FDA in December 2007 asking for Dr. von Eschenbach, the FDA commissioner, to review the issue personally. Mr. Menendez talked with the commissioner by phone, his office said.

The four lawmakers defend their actions, saying they were simply assisting a constituent tangled up in government bureaucracy. “Our effort to help them was solely to ensure they received a fair and unbiased FDA review,” Rep. Rothman said in a statement.

Congressional support helped ReGen land a meeting with Dr. von Eschenbach on Jan. 23, 2008. Two days later, ReGen in a letter called on Dr. von Eschenbach to put the matter in the hands of Dr. Schultz, head of the FDA’s device division.

In the same letter, ReGen also asked that the FDA staffers who previously had opposed Menaflex be excluded from the decision-making process.

It’s a good example of pushback on the Hill, as Grassley staffers worked with the Wall Street Journal to expose inappropriate influence by other Senate offices trying to corrupt the FDA process.

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