By Alexander Bolton - 01/31/13 06:46 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fended off questions about Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at a press conference about immigration reform.
The first question out of the gate was from CNN correspondent Jim Acosta, who asked Reid when he learned that Menendez had reimbursed a political donor nearly $60,000 for two trips he took on the donor’s private plane.
“First of all, Bob Menendez is my friend. He’s an outstanding senator. Any questions in this regard, direct to him. I don’t know anything about it,” Reid said.
The purpose of the press event was for Democratic leaders to reiterate their call for comprehensive immigration reform, and Reid wanted to discuss his plan for moving the bill through the Judiciary Committee and then to the floor.
Menendez’s has denied the sexual allegations as “manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog” and “false.”
Most of the reporting on the story has come from the conservative website The Daily Caller and Reid dismissed its work when asked about it at a Tuesday press conference.
“I always consider the source, and all anyone here has to look at is the source where this comes from,” he told reporters. “It's a source that has brought up a lot of non-issues.”
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Hours later, The Miami Herald reported that the FBI had raided the West Palm Beach, Fla., business of Dr. Salomon Melgen, who contributed to Menendez’s campaign and took him on at least three trips to the Dominican Republic aboard his private plane in 2010.
Menendez’s office said Wednesday the senator reimbursed the $58,500 cost of the two trips from personal funds, sparking a bout of media coverage.
The focus by the media on Menendez comes at an inconvenient time for Democrats seeking to push a comprehensive immigration reform package. Menendez is a member of the group of senators who on Monday unveiled a set of bipartisan principles for immigration reform.
CNN senior congressional producer Ted Barrett asked Reid to clarify the timeline of any conversations he may have had with Menendez about the reimbursements.
“I’ve answered the question, I’m not going to say anymore,” Reid said.
Instead, Reid moved on to discuss the role of the Judiciary Committee in moving immigration reform and gun violence legislation through regular order this year.
Menendez has long been one of the Senate’s most outspoken proponents of immigration reform, and he is the only Hispanic member of the Senate Democratic caucus.
He was not present at the Democratic leadership press conference on immigration reform Thursday. These press events usually feature only the top three or four Democratic leaders: Reid, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), Democratic Policy Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), and Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.). Murray was also absent.