January 31, 2013
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says he has reimbursed a prominent Florida political donor $58,500 for two controversial trips he took back in 2010.
Menendez traveled on the donor's plane to the Dominican Republic in 2010, and was accused of engaging in sex with prostitutes while in that country.
He denied those claims, and there had been no public disclosure of the two trips until now, when he reimbursed Salomon Melgen for the travel costs.
"The senator paid for the two trips out of his personal account and no reporting requirements apply," Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said Wednesday.
The FBI searched the West Palm Beach, Fla., office Melgen, an eye doctor, this week; it was unclear if the raid was at all related to Robert Menendez.
A third trip by Menendez aboard Melgen's plane, a campaign fundraising journey to the donor's residence in the Dominican Republic, took place in May 2010.
That trip was reported to the Federal Election Commission.
The trip, for fundraising from the community of Americans in the region, took Menendez to Puerto Rico as well as the Dominican Republic, said his office.
Menendez categorized the other two trips as personal.
The first was August 6-9, 2010, a round trip from South Florida to the Dominican Republic. The second was September 3-6, 2010, from New Jersey to the D.R. and back.
Menendez could've invoked a "friendship exemption" regarding the personal trips, which would've required him to report the travel to the Senate Ethics Committee as a gift.
Instead, Menendez chose to reimburse the full cost of the two trips.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) turned aside questions about Menendez Thursday, saying they should be directed to the New Jersey Democrat instead.
On Tuesday, before the disclosures about the FBI raid and the trips, he had expressed skepticism about the allegations, telling reporters to consider the source.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to answer when asked whether President Barack Obama still has full faith and confidence in Menendez.
"I don't have anything for you on that," Carney told reporters Thursday.
The Daily Caller, a conservative website, reported shortly before the November election that Menendez traveled on Melgen's plane to have sex with prostitutes.
Some New Jersey Republicans filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee last fall in the wake of the shocking allegations by The Daily Caller.
In response, Menendez's staff members searched records for trips by the senator and found the two additional trips that hadn't been reimbursed.
On Tuesday, Menendez became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, succeeding Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who is now Secretary of State.
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