NEWARK – Sen. Bob Menendez never spoke the name of his co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen during his 2012 meeting with the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, but then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought up Melgen directly and referenced multiple meetings he had with the Florida eye doctor, jurors in the Menendez corruption trial heard this morning.
Jonathan Blum, the former principal deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid,
returned to the witness stand for cross-examination. While yesterday Blum said Menendez was “angry” and adversarial during the August 2012 meeting with Secretary Kathleen Sebilius brokered by Reid, today Blum made it clear Reid reacted similarly.
“I believe he expressed frustration with the answers I was providing,” Blum said.
The Capitol building meeting is among official acts federal prosecutors say the senior Democratic senator from New Jersey undertook in exchange for private jet flights, Dominican Republic vacations and luxury hotel stays courtesy of Melgen. By 2009, the feds had found Melgen triple- and quadruple-billed Medicare, leading to an $8.9 million payment dispute which Menendez ttied to help resolve.
The defense in the case is trying to show Menendez’s concerns were broader than only Melgen’s plight, and point out that Medicare billing practices can be confusing and contradictory.
Blum, who attended the meeting with Sebilius, said Reid kicked off the meeting saying he was “concerned about this issue” then mentioned Melgen by name. Menendez defense lawyer Abbe Lowell seized on two statements by Reid which hint at a broader discussion.
According to Lowell, Reid said that “the issue at hand is one of fairness that you’ll understand if you speak English.”
Blum said he “possibly” heard Reid say that.
Blum had no recollection of another statement Lowell attributed to Reid: “Penalty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Sebilius could take the witness stand for the prosecution before the end of the day. Reid could also testify within the next few days of trial.
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