NJ Senator Menendez may soon face federal corruption charges
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Attorney General Eric Holder declined to answer questions Friday about a possible corruption indictment against Sen. Bob Menendez, despite reports that he recently authorized federal prosecutors to file charges against the New Jersey Democrat concerning his ties to a wealthy friend and political donor.
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, defiantly told reporters at a Friday night press conference that he had always behaved appropriately while in office.
"Let me be very clear, I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law," he said. "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."
The developments followed a CNN report that said the Justice department is preparing to bring charges against Menendez, the latest event in a long-running legal saga stemming from his relationship with Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist as well as a friend and donor to the lawmaker's campaigns.
Last week, it was reported that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judge's ruling and ordered a hearing to determine if two of Menendez's aides would be compelled to testify before a grand jury about the senator's efforts on behalf of Melgen. The New Jersey Law Journal reported that the appeals court identified two issues in question as a billing dispute Melgen had with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a deal he had to sell port screening equipment to the government of the Dominican Republic.
A U.S. District judge had ruled previously that actions taken by Menendez's office weren't legislative in nature, the law journal reported. The 3rd Circuit disagreed, writing that factual findings were required to support that ruling.
Holder declined to answer questions after an appearance with President Barack Obama at a black college in South Carolina.
"I can't comment on that," he said.
Menendez's spokeswoman, Tricia Enright, earlier issued a statement saying "any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason. "
She said Menendez and Melgen have long been friends and attended one another's family events and exchanged personal gifts.
"We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited. We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously," Enright added.
Questions about Menendez's ties to Melgen have dogged the senator for more than two years.
He has faced questions about trips he took to the Dominican Republic aboard Melgen's private plane. He has acknowledged taking several actions that could have appeared to benefit Melgen, including contacting the Medicare agency to urge changes to a payment policy that had cost Melgen millions.
Menendez has reimbursed Melgen for three plane trips. Last year, the senator disclosed that his campaign accounts had paid a law firm $250,000 for legal costs related to Justice Department and Senate Ethics Committee investigations of his ties to the Floridian.
For his part, Melgen earned renewed scrutiny when government data last year showed he had gotten more money in Medicare reimbursements in 2012 than any other doctor in the country.