Bob Menendez, the combative New Jersey senator beset by allegations that he had sex with at least one underage prostitute in the Dominican Republic, hurried out of a Marriott ballroom in Washington, D.C. after a speech Thursday night, out-dashing a gaggle of reporters and ignoring questions all the way to a welcome elevator.
The senator was speaking to an annual gathering of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, but members of the media weren’t interested in the value of pharmaceutical stocks or the future of the chemical industry.
“Sen Menendez walks away in silence as reporters fire questions about allegations,” Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tamari tweeted shortly after 9:30 p.m. “Ducks into elevator, and he’s gone.”
The Inquirer’s Joelle Farrell followed up a few minutes later on Twitter, writing that she found it “[k]ind of surreal to hear @GingerGibson yell ‘Did you sleep with prostitutes, Senator?’ at Menendez while we practically ran down [the] hall.”
Gibson is a reporter with Politico, a left-leaning news outlet.
As recently as Monday, Menendez’s office was calling the allegations against him the product of a right-wing smear job. But when the non-right-wing Miami Herald reported Tuesday night that the FBI had raided the business of Menendez’s campaign donor and alleged Dominican sex-party collaborator Salomon Melgen, Menendez-gate became a post-partisan media circus. (RELATED: FBI raids Florida eye clinic of Menendez donor linked to prostitution scandal)
Writing for Politico, Gibson reported late Thursday night that Menendez “did not respond to a flurry of questions as a crowd of reporters – many from his home state – followed him out of the speech.”
“A grim-faced Sen. Robert Menendez scurried out of the ballroom,” the Asbury Park Press told its readers.
“For Menendez,” Tamari wrote for the Inquirer, “it might have been a chance to shine in the spotlight of a rising profile, including a key role in immigration reform and chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Democrats gave him Tuesday.”
“Instead, allegations swirled around him, and his office confirmed that he took more than two years to repay a donor and friend for 2010 flights on a private plane. That donor, South Florida eye surgeon Salomon Melgen, is now under federal investigation.” (RELATED: Menendez drained more than 1/3 of bank accounts in January to pay for past Dominican Republic travel)
“The Senator,” reported Buzzfeed, “was, in fact, all but mum on the accusations, from the moment he entered the Marriott to the moment he ducked out, chased all the while by a bevy of reporters before scrambling into an elevator that took him and an entourage to the basement of the hotel.”
Inquirer reporter Matt Katz summed it up in a caption to a tweeted photo: “Hands clasped; no words.”
Two hours earlier, according to a tweet from CNN’s Jim Acosta, an arriving Menendez told CNN assignment editor Gregory Clary that “These are nameless, faceless allegations.”
“You should find out who that is,” the senator added, according to Buzzfeed.
The Daily Caller was first to report on the prostitution allegations, on Nov. 1, 2012. That report featured two Dominican women who made specific claims, during videotaped interviews, that they were paid for sex with Menendez during the Easter weekend that year. (RELATED: Dominican prostitute: Sen. Bob Menendez “likes the youngest and newest girls”)
TheDC withheld their names and obscured their faces to guarantee their anonymity.