Durbin: Menendez assured lawmakers ‘no substance’ to ethics allegations

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Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he believed Sen. Robert Menendez’s (D-N.J.) claims that there was “no substance” to recent ethics allegations over his relationship with a prominent donor.

Durbin was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if Menendez should step aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until the Ethics Committee clears him of accusations of impropriety.

“Sen. Menendez has given us assurance that there is no substance to these charges,” said Durbin. “It's being looked at by the Ethics committee.”

“I can't comment beyond that,” Durbin added.

Menendez has come under scrutiny for accepting unreported private flights from the donor, Dr. Salmon Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon.

Menendez sent Melgen a personal check for $58,500 last month, acknowledging that he had not reported the flights as gifts.

Reports have also accused Menendez of interceding on the donor’s behalf during a Medicare overbilling investigation and of urging officials to help enforce an overseas port-security contract for a firm partially owned by Melgen.

The conservative website Daily Caller last month also charged that Melgen had procured prostitutes for Menendez during trips to the Dominican Republican.

The New Jersey senator, though, has strenuously denied the charges as “baseless.” In an interview with Univision aired on Sunday, Menendez said that he had never been “bought” in public life.

"It's the last time I am going to say this — the last time. Anonymous people without faces, without names can make accusations and the press can ask these questions,” Menendez said on Univision on Friday. "Those are false accusations, and they are trying to defame me, and are completely, not only absurd, but completely false."

“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 added.

Menendez said he intervened on Melgen’s behalf to clear “confusing” rules in the Medicare case and said his work on the port security contract was the “correct policy.”

Federal agents last month raided Melgen’s Florida home and office, although the government has not specified the focus of their investigation.

But pressure is growing on Menendez, with the New York Times’ editorial board on Sunday calling for him to give up his gavel until the Ethics Committee finished its probe.

The allegations come as Menendez has taken a center role in Senate efforts on immigration reform. Along with Durbin, Menendez is a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators who have unveiled a framework for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.

This post was updated at 3:39 p.m.