NEWARK – Prior to an August 2012 meeting between Sen. Bob Menendez, then- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and then- Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the Health Department set ground rules that Dr. Salomon Melgen could not be mentioned during the discussion, Reid’s former aide testified at Menendez’s corruption trial this morning.
At the time, Melgen’s Medicare fraud case was on appeal before an outside board. And though Menendez’s staff had briefed Reid’s office on the ins and outs of Melgen’s case and Reid’s staff met with Melgen’s lawyers, Reid’s former aide Katherine Leone testified a policy change would not necessarily have benefitted Melgen.
“For the pending case, it would have had to have been retroactive, but that wasn’t discussed,” Leone said.
Nor did Reid ever consider introducing legislation to change Medicare billing to Melgen’s benefit, Leone said.
Though a former Medicare official testified Monday that Reid opened the meeting by talking about multiple meetings with Melgen, Leone denied Melgen’s name ever came up. The August 2, 2012 meeting in Reid’s office in the Capitol ended with the Health Department sticking to its policy and no further action taken.
Repeatedly, the government prosecutors who called Leone tried to get her to say the real issue behind the meeting with Sebelius was helping Melgen out of a jam. But Leone repeatedly stuck to portraying the meeting as a broader policy discussion, though admitted to getting conflicting messages about the goal in speaking to Sebelius.
“There was confusion about what they were asking us to do,” Leone said of Menendez’s office.
Earlier, prosecutors had focused on a June 2012 fundraiser for Menendez’s Senate campaign that year which Melgen attended, but it was unclear why.
Fran Katz Watson, president of The Katz Watson Group campaign fundraiser, said a few hundred people attended the gathering at the Pegasus Restaurant at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford. Prosecutors showed an email from Menendez chief of staff Danny O’Brien to Katz Watson which advised her Melgen would be showing up.
But the defense seemed baffled as to why Melgen’s presence at a campaign fundraising event was relevant.
“Is there a code embedded in this email?” Menendez defense attorney Raymond Brown asked. “Some secret meaning?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Katz Watson answered.
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