Faced with a credible news report that they agreed to a request from Allen Stanford to ask Hugo Chavez to file criminal charges against a Venezuelan banker, most politicians would likely want to respond. Either to deny the story, or at least to offer some generic and uncontroversial sentiment like “Congressman X believes Allen Stanford should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” After all, that’s not exactly the kind of story most pols want to leave just hanging out there.
Not Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), though. Over 60 hours after McClatchy reported that Meeks agreed to that request during a 2006 phone call with Stanford, the New York congressman remains mum. His office didn’t respond to McClatchy, and his press secretary hasn’t returned two voice-mails and email from TPMmuckraker.A quick refresher on what exactly the McClatchy report — sourced to two unnamed former federal agents working for Stanford at the time, who say they were on the call, on speakerphone — alleged:
Stanford wanted to target the president of his Venezuelan bank, Gonzalo Tirado, with whom he had fallen out, and who was threatening to expose Stanford as a fraud. During a phone call in 2006, Stanford asked Meeks to ask Chavez to file charges against Tirado — and Meeks agreed. A month after that, Meeks traveled to Venezuela for a meeting with Chavez, which was billed as an opportunity to thank him for a program that provided heating oil to Americans. And a year after that, Venezuelan prosecutors filed charges against Tirado.
McClatchy also reported that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into Stanford’s ties to lawmakers.
Meeks hasn’t always been silent about his relationship with Stanford’s operation — from which he received over $12,000 in campaign contributions in 2008. Back in 2004, he told Newsday (via Nexis) that his trip to the Caribbean — paid for by a Stanford-backed non-profit and during which he stayed at the St. Lucia Hilton — was designed for lawmakers to hear how Caribbean banks had been hurt by efforts to close off-shore tax loopholes.
Meeks is seen as something of a rising star in the Democratic party. As the Daily News has pointed out, it was Meeks — not Rep. Charlie Rangel, the dean of the New York delegation, who has had his own ethics troubles lately — who was tapped to convey to New York governor David Paterson the White House’s concern about his low poll numbers.
It’s hard to imagine that Meeks would want to leave this story dangling too much longer. We’ll keep you posted.
Late Update: It’s not just us. The Daily News editorializes today: “Come clean, Mr. Meeks.”