Menendez: ‘I’m Not Going Anywhere’ (Updated)
Updated 7:45 p.m. | Sen. Robert Menendez, who is likely to face federal corruption charges in the coming weeks according to multiple published reports, is gearing up for a battle with the Justice Department.
Without taking questions, Menendez signaled Friday night that he was prepared for a fight the Department of Justice over what seems to be a likely indictment on federal corruption charges.
“I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” the New Jersey Democrat said at a news conference. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Menendez made his remarks in English and Spanish in a hotel conference room in Newark a bit after 7 p.m. Friday, apparently delayed by traffic in the area that would have included fans heading to the nearby Prudential Center for a Devils hockey game.
CNN first reported Friday that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. agreed to a request from federal prosecutors to pursue criminal proceedings against the New Jersey Democrat, who has been under scrutiny for his dealings with ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida doctor who has received millions of dollars in Medicare payments.
Menendez dismissed any appearance of impropriety, saying that he and Melgen were longtime friends, highlighting holidays that their families had spent together.
There have been questions about Menendez’s involvement with an investigation of Melgen’s Medicare billing practices, as well as a port security contract.
While earlier allegations about Menendez engaging with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic were discredited, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee continued to face a more routine federal corruption investigation, including a previously reported grand jury probe .
Holder, asked about the case on Friday afternoon, declined to comment on any potential charges.
Tricia Enright, spokeswoman for Menendez, issued a statement saying the senator has not committed any crimes.
“As we have said before, we believe all of the Senator’s actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that. Any actions taken by Senator Menendez or his office have been to appropriately address public policy issues and not for any other reason,” Enright said.
“The Senator has counted Dr. Melgen as one of his closest personal friends for decades. The two have spent holidays together and have gone to each other’s family funerals and weddings and have exchanged personal gifts. As has been reported, the start of this investigation is suspect. We know many false allegations have been made about this matter, allegations that were ultimately publicly discredited,” Enright said. “We also know that the official investigation of this matter is ongoing, and therefore cannot address allegations being made anonymously.”
If Menendez were to vacate his seat, GOP Gov. Chris Christie would make an appointment to fill the vacancy. Christie would then call a special election for voters to choose a senator to serve out the remainder of Menendez’s term, set to expire in 2018.
An appointed Republican senator would almost certainly be a placeholder. The last time Garden State voters elected a Republican to the Senate was in 1972. Christie’s sharp popularity decline would also weigh heavily around a Republican candidate’s chances.
The Democratic Party’s field in a potential special election is uncertain. A number of Democrats piled into a 2013 special election to replace the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg.
In 2013, Newark Mayor Cory Booker defeated Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., former Rep. Rush D. Holt and former state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver to win the Democratic nomination. Booker then went on to trounce his GOP opponent, former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, by an 11-point margin.
Since the special election, Pallone went on to win a contentious race for ranking member on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, a position Democrats say makes him likely to sit a special election out.
Holt retired from the House after losing the Senate special election primary, making him an unlikely contender for the seat.
Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. and Donald M. Payne Jr. — both of whom hail from the New York City suburbs — could take a look at a run, Democratic operatives said. As could freshman Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross, brother of powerful New Jersey Democratic Party leader George E. Norcross.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and state Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, both of whom are mulling gubernatorial bids in 2017, could switch to the Senate contest.
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