Sen. Bob Menendez was relaxed and casual as he met with New Jersey reporters. He’d been laying low for the past couple of weeks, after reports — first on a conservative blog and then in the mainstream media — that he had accepted trips and campaign contributions from a major donor and had advocated for that donor before administration officials and on a senate sub committee. He said not paying for the trips was an oversight that he rectified voluntarily.
“I regret that it fell through the cracks, but that’s the case,” he told a small group of reporters, including NJ Today’s David Cruz.
But The New York Times this weekend called for the Senate Ethics Committee to open a formal investigation into the charges and for Menendez to step down from his seat as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the meantime.
“With all due respect to The New York Times, they’re entitled to their opinion but that’s about it,” said Menendez, adding he would not step down from his position on Foreign Relations. “The answer is I welcome any review but I have no intention of letting the smears try to deviate me from the work that I have been doing and will continue to do. … I have no intention of doing that whatsoever.”
The senator says the donor — who he described as a long-time friend and excellent doctor — got no benefits from his relationship with Menendez and that any contributions he made were all accounted for in public filings. Menendez said that as far as he knew there was no formal investigation into this matter and that he had not been contacted by the FBI. But given an opportunity to explain the nature of his trips to the Dominican Republic — of which there were at least three — Menendez wasn’t entirely forthcoming.
Asked whether any business was discussed or if the trips were vacations, Menendez replied: “Clearly for example, the one trip was part of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee event where funds were raised, and that was the nature of that event, so, you know, that is what was publicly reported and that was listed.”
But Menendez ignored a request to describe the other trips.
Menendez did find support from one prominent Democrat. Deputy Majority Leader Dick Durbin told “Meets the Press” that Menendez should keep his chairmanship.
When asked if he had advocated for his donor friend on other occasions, Menendez said that — having known him for 20 years — he couldn’t say with finality whether he had or not. But the e-mails that surfaced today show the senator doing exactly that. So, while Menendez may not want to answer any more press questions on the matter, the next questions he may be answering could come before the Senate Ethics Committee.