Court refuses to drop corruption charges against Menendez

A federal appeals court on Friday refused to drop corruption charges against Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWe can accelerate a cure for Alzheimer's The Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange MORE (D-N.J.), according to The Associated Press.

Menendez's attorneys had argued that his actions on behalf of a campaign donor were protected because he's a sitting senator, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

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Prosecutors allege that Menendez received bribes from Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist and wealthy Florida donor, in the form of campaign donations and extravagant gifts. 

In return, Menendez allegedly set up meetings with government officials to arrange favors for Melgen.

Both men pleaded not guilty last year.

In February, Menendez’s lawyers argued that the meetings he held with government officials were not favors for Melgen, but rather routine policy discussions that are constitutionally protected.

The court disagreed on Friday, ruling that "the acts alleged in this case were essentially lobbying on behalf of a particular party and thus, under the specific circumstances here, are outside the constitutional safe harbor."

Menendez's attorney Abbe David Lowell said he plans to appeal the decision.

"Today's ruling by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is just another step in the legal process that, at the end of the day, will show that Sen. Menendez has always acted in accordance with the law," said Lowell in a statement. 

"While disappointed that the Court has allowed this case to go to the next step, the court specifically stated in its opinion that 'the evidence in favor of Sen. Menendez will no doubt channel forcefully his position at trial.' "

Lowell also said that the Supreme Court's recent decision to vacate former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's (R) corruption conviction raises issues that could influence Menendez's case.

The Justice Department alleges that Melgen supplied Menendez with gifts including the use of private jets, a Caribbean villa, a luxury hotel room in Paris and an exclusive Dominican resort. Melgen also donated to a legal defense fund set up to pay for legal fees associated with federal and congressional ethics investigations. 

- This story was updated at 2:22 p.m.