Menendez amid trial: 'Not once have I dishonored my public office'

Menendez amid trial: 'Not once have I dishonored my public office'

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPaul blocks Senate vote on House-passed Syria resolution House to vote on resolution condemning Trump's Syria pullback Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (D-N.J.) said ahead of the first day of his corruption trial Wednesday that he has never "dishonored" his public office while vowing to fight the federal bribery charges.

"I have committed my entire adult life, since I was 19, to fighting for the people of New Jersey," Menendez told reporters before entering a federal courthouse in Newark, N.J. "Never, not once, not once have I dishonored my public office."

"I have never backed away from a fight that I didn't believe was right, even if it meant opposing my own president or my own party," he added. "That's simply who I am, and I'm not going to stop now."

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Federal prosecutors allege that for years Menendez took expensive gifts, political donations and lavish vacations from Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, in exchange for Menendez using his Senate office to lobby on Melgen's behalf. 

Both Menendez and Melgen, who is a co-defendant in the trial, have denied the charges, arguing that the gifts and vacations were part of a longstanding friendship and that Menendez's actions were part of his legitimate legislative duties.

Melgen was found guilty earlier this year in a separate Medicare fraud trial in Florida. His sentencing has been postponed until after he stands trial alongside Menendez, and he faces spending years in prison.

Prosecutors opened the trial Wednesday by arguing that Menendez had "sold his office for a lifestyle he couldn’t afford," casting the senior New Jersey senator's actions as the epitome of bribery and corruption by a public official.

“He went to bat when Dr. Melgen asked, and Dr. Melgen asked frequently,” Justice Department attorney Peter Koski said in court, according to The Associated Press. “There’s no friendship exception to bribery. There’s no friendship exception to breaking the law.”

The bribery accusations levied against Menendez and Melgen outline expensive trips to exclusive locations in the Dominican Republic and Paris, exorbitant campaign donations and unreported trips on Melgen's private jet. 

In exchange, prosecutors allege, the senator helped secure visas for Melgen's foreign female companions, lobbied for the doctor in a dispute with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and intervened in a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.

Menendez's attorney Abbe Lowell sought in court Wednesday to show that the senator's official actions did not consistently match up with attempted bribes by Melgen, the AP reported.

Republicans have been targeting Democrats ahead of Menendez's trial, which carries possible ramifications for the balance of power in the Senate.

If found guilty, Menendez will not automatically be forced out of the upper chamber, though he could choose to resign or be voted out by his colleagues. Menendez is up for reelection next year and has vowed to run again.

If he is removed from the Senate before mid-January, outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) would get to choose his replacement, which would likely increase the GOP's slim 52-seat majority in the chamber.

Menendez said Wednesday that he would attend his corruption trial on a daily basis, but said he would decide whether to return to Washington for important Senate votes. 

U.S. District Judge William Walls, who is presiding over the trial, rejected a request by Menendez last week that the trial be halted so he could return to the Senate for critical votes.