Sordid details have continued to emerge in the corruption trial of Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), with the latest testimony focused on charges that the senator influenced visa application approvals for his friend's mistresses.
Menendez faces charges of bribery and corruption for official favors he provided to a wealthy donor while serving in the Senate. He is the first sitting senator in 36 years to face bribery charges, and ABC's "Good Morning America" found some of the evidence to be "scandalous."
"At times, this case sounds a bit more like an episode of ‘Scandal,’" congressional reporter Mary Bruce said, referring to the politically themed ABC show. "Bribery charges, mistresses, and alleged abuse of power, and at the heart of it all, a U.S. senator on trial for federal corruption."
"This morning, these women find themselves caught up in bribery charges against a sitting U.S. senator," Bruce said as three photos of women appeared on screen.
"Federal prosecutors allege New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez helped these women obtain visas to the U.S. as a political favor for their boyfriend, the senator’s married friend and wealthy donor Dr. Salomon Melgen – just one of the favors Menendez allegedly did for the doctor in exchange for expensive hotel stays, flights on private jets, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in private campaign contributions," Bruce continued.
The GMA segment showed a clip of the Democratic lawmaker defending himself.
"I started my public career fighting corruption; that’s how I started." Menendez said outside the courthouse. "And I have always acted in accordance with the law. And I believe when all of the facts are known, I will be vindicated."
One of the women testified that when her visa application was denied, Melgen told her he would "fix it" by talking to his friend Menendez. Later, the senator instructed an aide to "call ambassador asap" in reference to the visa application, according to emails recounted in the indictment.
"Now his defense attorneys insist none of this was part of a bribe, and they say he did nothing improper," Bruce said. "They say it’s customary for him to help out with visa applications."
Menendez has maintained the support of some Democratic Senate colleagues, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), who commended his "spirited defense." Schumer would not answer whether Menendez should resign if convicted, and neither have a number of other Democrats when asked the same question.
Menendez’ lawyers have further defended their client by saying he is under attack for his identity as a Hispanic American.
The senator's political action committee, New Millennium, has contributed thousands to the campaigns of various Senate Democrats. Records show many of the Democratic senators took the money even after Menendez was indicted for corruption in 2015.