Harry Reid’s role in the Menendez scandal

Earlier this week, former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified in the corruption trial of former Senator Robert Menendez. According to Sebelius, she was pulled into an “unusual” meeting regarding an $8.9 million billing dispute between Menendez’s friend and benefactor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, and Medicare. The meeting occurred in the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with Reid present.

Though Dr. Melgen’s name apparently wasn’t mentioned during the meeting, Menendez tried to persuade Sebelius to change the applicable billing policy. Melgen apparently was the only provider demanding a change in this policy and involved in a payment dispute over it. Moreover, Sebelius knew he was a crony of Menendez. That’s why, according to her testimony, she avoided Menendez. Thus, Sebelius understood what the New Jersey Senator wanted, and why.

Sebelius testified that this sort of dispute was not the kind of thing she became involved in. Sebelius knew that Menendez wanted such a meeting, but she had avoided granting him one. According to her testimony, Sebelius’ staff had advised her to ignore Menendez’s calls and to let lower-level staff rebuff his requests for a meeting.

Why, then, did the meeting occur? Sebelius testified that she granted it on the request of Harry Reid.

According to Sebelius, Reid’s request was unprecedented. She testified:

It was unusual for Senator Reid to ask me to come to a meeting involving another member of Congress. I think this was the only time in five and a half years that that occurred.

Why did Reid push Sebelius to meet with Menendez? Was it just a courtesy to his fellow Senator?

Conceivably. But remember, this was the only such request Reid made to Sebelius in five and a half years. It’s unlikely that Menendez was the only Senator who wanted to meet with her during this period.

Ed Morrissey offers a better explanation. Dr. Melgen, on whose behalf Menendez wanted to meet with the HHS Secretary, was a major donor not just to the New Jersey Senator, but to other Senate Democrats as well:

Menendez wasn’t Melgen’s only target for donations, even in the US Senate; he poured money into the coffers for Bill Nelson (FL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Tom Harkin, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — $30,400 in 2009. Even Kendrick Meek got a taste in Florida’s 2010 special election that resulted in Marco Rubio’s election. Reid certainly knew where that money originated. . . .

The prosecution reportedly has decided not to call Reid as a witness, presumably because it fears he will find a way to help his old crony. It will rely on Sebelius’ account of the meeting in question.

It’s not clear whether the defense will call Reid. If it does, both sets of lawyers will probably be on pins and needles, just as the ex-Majority Leader’s staff used to be when this loose cannon spoke on the Senate floor.