Menendez sets up legal fund in ethics probe

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has set up a legal fund to defray the growing costs of dual investigations into his ties to a top donor, the Associated Press reports.

Menendez's political campaign paid a law firm $250,000 last month to fight off probes by the Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee into his ties to Florida doctor Salomon Melgen, according to disclosure forms filed Friday. Menendez has denied wrongdoing.

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A Menendez spokeswoman told the wire service that the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is the victim of a “smear campaign.”

“To help alleviate those expenses in the future, we are opening a legal expense fund consistent with Senate Ethics Committee rules and approved by the committee,” said Tricia Enright. “This fund will allow Senator Menendez to raise funds, all of which will be publicly disclosed, to pay for legal expenses.”

Menendez is accused of improperly accepting gifts from Melgen and advocating on his behalf with federal healthcare officials. He's had to defend himself against allegations that he saw prostitutes during trips to the Dominican Republic on the doctor's private jet, but his accusers have recanted their stories.

The senator reimbursed Melgen nearly $60,000 last year for those flights. The new disclosure records released Friday show he reimbursed him another $11,250 for a 2011 flight.