Justice Department investigators have interviewed former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding a meeting she and an aide had with Sen. Bob Menendez in Sen. Harry Reid's office, Politico
Reid, then majority leader, facilitated the August 2012 gathering but said little, Sebelius told Politico.
The subject was a billing reimbursement dispute between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and a Florida medical facility owned by ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. The federal agency contended that Melgen had overbilled the government by $8.9 million, The Washington Post
Melgen was a major contributor to Menendez's re-election campaign and to a super PAC operated by Reid associates.
Menendez's position, his office has said, is that CMS billing policies "had not been fairly or universally applied — that somehow the rules had changed along the way" and that the government's decision to deny Melgen payment for procedures "had seemed different than other cases." Menendez has insisted his intervention was lawful, according to Politico.
Going into the meeting, Sebelius knew that Menendez was under investigation, Politico said.
That investigation centers on whether the New Jersey Democrat exerted influence on behalf of Melgen with HHS in return for favors.
A separate inquiry is looking into whether Menendez pushed the Commerce and State departments to intervene with other countries on behalf of Melgen's foreign business interests, the Post reported.
Attorney General Eric Holder has given the green light for criminal corruption charges to be brought against Menendez, CNN
According to Menendez, he and Melgen have been friends for over 20 years
and celebrated holidays, family weddings, and sad times together. They have given each other birthday and holiday gifts "just as friends do," said Menendez.
At the 2012 meeting, which lasted under a half-hour, Sebelius and Jonathan Blum, then a senior CMS official, told Menendez that the agency's policies had been administered in an "even-handed" fashion. Melgen's name was not mentioned.
"It was pretty straightforward," Sebelius told Politico. "We just reiterated what was not new information to the senator, but reinforced the fact that this was the procedure — the rules were clear that they were uniformly administered. And then the meeting ended."
An outside administrative review board was by then considering the billing dispute between Melgen and CMS, which meant that the issue was no longer in the department's purview.
Sebelius told Politico that it was not unusual for lawmakers to intervene with her office when their constituents believed they had been unfairly treated by her agency, according to Politico.
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