Embattled Sen. Robert Menendez may soon be facing criminal corruption charges for allegedly providing political favors for a wealthy Democratic donor and friend, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to vacate his Senate seat any time soon.
“Let me be very clear, very clear. I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” Menendez told reporters at a Friday night news conference in Newark. “I am not going anywhere.”
The Senator says he couldn’t answer any questions because of an ongoing investigation.
Investigators have focused in part on plane trips Menendez took in 2010 to the Dominican Republic as a guest of Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, who he reimbursed in 2013 for $58,000.
Since then, Menendez has been plagued by questions from federal prosecutors about his ties to Melgen. He has no intention of stepping aside and every intention of fighting the Justice Department and clearing his name.
According to those close to the case, Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on filing corruption charges; an announcement could be imminent within weeks. There is pressure for prosecutors to proceed since the statute of limitations runs out this year.
The two-term Democrat says he has always been honest in office.
“Every action that I and my office have taken for the last 23 years that I have been privileged to be in the United States Congress has been based on pursuing the best policies for the people of New Jersey and this entire country,” Menendez says.
Menendez helped Melgen in a dispute with Medicare administrators over reimbursements in 2010 during a time when he was also a major Democratic donor. The doctor’s attorneys have denied any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors are also are looking at whether Menendez broke the law when advocating for Melgen’s business interest in a Dominican Republic government contract for a port screening equipment.
Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright says, “We believe all of the senator’s actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that.”
He came under scrutiny two years ago as a critic of the Obama administration’s Iran and Cuba policy.
For investigators, direct evidence that a politician benefited by the exchange more than just legitimately helping a constituent or a friend is usually considered the strongest proof of corruption. But circumstantial evidence can also be persuasive if presented right.
Voted the most powerful politician in Hudson County, Menendez had an estimated net worth of $448,002 in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Prosecution of the only Hispanic Democrat in the Senate might prove controversial.