Menendez denies allegations in interview

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez also said initial failure to pay for two flights on a donor's private plane was an "oversight."
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez also said initial failure to pay for two flights on a donor's private plane was an "oversight."
Posted: February 06, 2013

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) vehemently denied allegations linking him to prostitutes Monday in his first extended comments to reporters since accusations broke into widespread view last week.

He called the allegations "smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election" and "totally unsubstantiated" in an on-camera interview with CNN.

"It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they've done successfully," Menendez told CNN in the brief interview. "Now, nobody can find them, no one ever met them, no one ever talked to them, but that's where we're at. The bottom line is, all of those smears are absolutely false."

Menendez also briefly addressed questions about matters that have drawn attention from the Senate Ethics Committee: two round-trip flights he took in 2010 on a campaign donor's private plane but did not pay for until last month, and his prodding last year of federal officials to help the donor, Salomon Melgen, in a business dispute in the Dominican Republic. He called the initial failure to pay for the trips an "oversight."

Menendez's comments echo earlier statements issued by his office, but he had not personally answered questions since the unsubstantiated allegations about trysts with prostitutes - along with more substantive reports about potential ethics violations - surfaced last week.

At the time of the 2010 flights provided by Melgen, a South Florida eye surgeon, Menendez was chairman of the Democrats' Senate campaign arm. He said Monday that the role meant he had a busy travel schedule.

"In the process of all of that, it unfortunately fell through the cracks," he told CNN. "When it came to my attention that payment had not taken place, I personally paid for them in order to meet my obligation."

He paid the $58,500 on Jan. 4, more than two years after taking the trips and months after Republicans had filed an ethics complaint about the issue.

"If it had come to my attention before, I would have in fact done it before. When it came to my attention, I did what was right," Menendez said.

Asked by other news outlets whether the trips were personal or official business, Menendez said, "It doesn't matter what they were - I paid for them," according to the Bergen Record.

The allegations that Menendez hired prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, including some who were said to be underage, were based on e-mailed accusations from a tipster whose identity and claims have never been publicly verified.

The claims were touted on conservative websites but gained mainstream attention last week when the FBI raided Melgen's South Florida offices, though the raid is believed to have been focused on potential Medicare fraud.

One of the women the e-mailer had named as a prostitute has denied the claim about the senator, telling Spanish-language channel Univision that she had never met Menendez.

As to his advocacy on Melgen's behalf with other federal officials, Menendez said he was doing what he thought was best for U.S. policy, CNN reported.

Melgen had a stake in a company with a multimillion-dollar contract to screen cargo at Dominican ports, but the deal was held up in a dispute, the New York Times reported. Menendez's office said he was interested in Dominican port security because of drug-trafficking concerns.


Contact Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his blog 'Capitol Inq' at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.

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