Reid Calls Menendez 'Outstanding Senator' Amid Legal Troubles

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 6, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors.

Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who is facing possible corruption charges, retains strong backing from fellow Senate Democrats including Minority Leader Harry Reid.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s been an outstanding senator,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. He said Menendez has “done a stalwart job” as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The U.S. Justice Department is preparing corruption charges against Menendez, a person familiar with the investigation said on March 6. Menendez was the foreign relations panel’s chairman before his party lost control of the Senate in January.

Asked if Menendez should resign his committee leadership post if charged, Reid said, “Let’s wait and see what happens before we start speculating about what should happen.”

Menendez, 61, denied wrongdoing on March 6 and said he won’t leave office.

Prosecutors have been examining whether Menendez illegally promoted the business interests of a friend and campaign donor, Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist. The Justice Department will probably seek charges in the next few weeks, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

Reid confirmed a Politico report Monday that he voluntarily spoke to investigators last year about the Menendez investigation. Politico said its sources, whom it didn’t identify, described Reid as a witness in the case.

Fellow Democrats

Menendez on Tuesday attended a weekly closed-door lunch with his fellow Democratic senators. West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Virginia’s Tim Kaine both said Menendez didn’t address his colleagues about the possible impending charges.

Republicans, meanwhile, are making clear they will do whatever they can to turn Menendez’s legal troubles into a campaign liability for Senate Democrats, including Reid, who is seeking a sixth term in 2016.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is demanding that Reid and other Democrats pay back campaign contributions from Menendez. In a press release Monday, the group said Reid had in the past returned money from donors who had been indicted.

Menendez contributed $10,000 to Reid in 2009 through his leadership PAC, New Millennium PAC. He hasn’t donated to Reid’s 2016 re-election efforts.

Reid is the most high-profile, though not the only, Democrat whom Republicans seek to link to Menendez through campaign contributions. They are targeting others who have received money from Menendez including Colorado Senator Michael Bennet; Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak, a former congressman; and Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who said he will seek a Senate seat in 2016.

Menendez served as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2010 campaign cycle and donated $389,000 through his leadership PAC to Democrats that year, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington group that tracks campaign spending.

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