New York Times calls for Menendez to relinquish committee chairmanship

The New York Times editorial board called on Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) Saturday to step aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until questions about his relationship with a friend and donor under FBI investigation are resolved. The editorial is the latest blow in the broadening flap over Menendez's relationship with Salmon Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon accused of overbilling the government millions for medical treatments.

"It is unclear whether the Senate Ethics Committee has initiated a formal inquiry into Mr. Menendez’s conduct, but a prompt and thorough review is surely called for," the editorial read. "In the meantime, Mr. Menendez needs to relinquish his leadership role, at least temporarily."

Menendez, who assumed the chairmanship after Secretary of State John Kerry was confirmed late last month, first came under fire over a pair of flights on Melgen's private jet he accepted in 2010 for vacations to the Dominican Republic. The New Jersey senator sent Melgen a personal check for $58,500 in January, acknowledging he had not properly reported the flights as gifts.

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Since then, reports have questioned Menendez's efforts to help Melgen revive a port security contract for a firm that he partially owned and phone calls the senator placed to federal health officials over the accusations of overbilling Medicare. 

Earlier this month, federal agents raided Melgen's Florida home and office, although the government has not indicated the focus of their investigation.

The Times' editorial deals a new blow to the embattled Menendez; the paper is not only the highest-profile liberal-leaning editorial board in the nation, but has wide distribution in the Northern New Jersey suburbs surrounding the city.

Menendez, for his part, has begun aggressively battling back against critics. In an interview set to air Sunday with Univision, the New Jersey senator insisted "nobody has bought me."

 “Nobody has bought me, No. 1. Never, in 20 years that I have been in Congress, never has this been suggested that this has been possible. Never in 40 years of public life," Menendez said.

He went on to say his interventions on behalf of Melgen were proper, saying he simply wanted to clarify a "confusing" administrative process in the Medicare case and defending his work on the port security contract as the "correct policy."