In what may be the hardest hitting ad yet in the U.S. Senate race, Republican Bob Hugin is going up on the air with a new television commercial tomorrow that slams incumbent Bob Menendez for hypocrisy by saying women who allege sexual assaults should be believed while dismissing claims that he engaged in sex with prostitutes – some of them underage.
The Hugin campaign created the ad after Menendez appeared on the Senate floor earlier this month to speak in opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“When will we as a society begin to believe women? To trust women?” Menendez said
The Hugin ad quotes a 2013 affidavit from FBI special agent Gregory J. Sheehy saying that “for several years, Senator Menendez had been traveling to the Dominican Republic to engage in sexual activity with prostitutes – some of whom were minors.”
Sheehy had investigated an anonymous tip that came during Menendez’s 2012 re-election campaign that the senator had engaged in the use of prostitutes while staying at the Dominican Republic home of a friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen. Melgen, now in prison for Medicare fraud, was Menendez’s co-defendant in a 2016 bribery trial that ended in a hung jury. The Justice Department eventually dismissed the charges against the two.
“Our country is at a different place than we were when this came out,” said former State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), Hugin’s campaign co-chair. “We can see things much more clearly than we did when these issues first came out. Women need to be heard.”
The Hugin campaign invoked the recent allegations by Murphy administration official Katie Brennan that she was raped by a top Murphy aide during the 2017 gubernatorial campaign, saying that the absence of charges against Menendez means that the government simply did not pursue them and not that they were wrong or false.
While Menendez has said that the accusations against him were easily disprovable, the FBI, citing their own investigation and interviews with eyewitnesses, disagreed.
The Hugin camp suggests that while details of Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her lacked key details, the FBI affidavit is highly specific.
“The people of New Jersey have the right to know all the facts regarding the FBI investigation into Senator Menendez and this ad gives them that opportunity,” Hugin said in a statement.
Allen says it was Menendez’s hypocrisy that made raising the issue of the prostitution allegations more relevant.
“Just days ago, in a speech on the Senate floor, Bob Menendez said that we should believe women who make allegations of sexual assault,” said Allen. “Why, then, should we not believe the allegations by these women who claimed to have had sex with Senator Menendez when they were underage? These are allegations that President Obama’s Justice Department believed to be credible and backed up by corroborating evidence. He can’t have it both ways.”
Hugin has backed up the allegations in his ad by saying that FBI has corroborated evidence and that the women who have not recanted their statements were underage. The campaign noted that those women — all minors — were different than the adult prostitutes who recanted in affidavits that were released by a cousin of Melgen.
Allen noted that the allegations made by an anonymous tipster in 2012 to the FBI and some media outlets was the genesis of Menendez’s legal issues.
“It started because the FBI was investigating Menendez and Melgen,” Allen said.
Hugin relies on allegations by unidentified victims. His campaign cited the FBI affidavit as their primary source, and said that the federal probe corroborated many of the allegations.
The Menendez campaign strongly pushed back on Hugin’s allegations.
“It is clear that Bob Hugin will say, do and spend whatever he wants to try to deceive New Jersey voters and buy a Senate seat. This is a disgraceful act by a desperate man. They are lies and he knows it. He is peddling the same lies and smears right-ring groups concocted six years ago that have since been independently investigated and proven utterly false by reputable news organizations—like CNN, the Washington Post, ABC News, Univision and others—as well as the FBI,” said Steve Sandberg, a spokesman for Menendez. “While it should come as no surprise to anyone that a greedy, drug company CEO who preyed on the sick and suffering to get rich would stoop this low, this act in and of itself proves Bob Hugin lacks the integrity, fitness and moral character to serve in the U.S. Senate.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with comment from the Menendez campaign.