Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) attributed the non-disclosure of a series of flights he took with a controversial donor to his busy travel schedule in 2010, in his first comments on the matter Monday with CNN:
DANA BASH: Senator, if you can explain why it took so long to pay back almost $60,000 in flights that you took with (unclear).
MENENDEZ: I was in a big travel schedule in 2010 as the chair of the DSCC, plus my own campaign getting ready for a reelection cycle, and in the process of all of that, it unfortunately fell through the cracks that our processes didn’t catch (that) moving forward, and making sure that we paid. When it came to my attention that payment had not taken place, I personally paid for them to meet my obligation.
BASH: Because that’s a lot of money, and as chair of the DSCC, you do so much traveling — you know the rules. That’s a pretty big chunk of money not to pay back.
MENENDEZ: Well, it’s certainly the responsibility of myself, when it came to my attention to do so. Now, if it had come to my attention before, I would have in fact, done it before. When it came to my attention, I did what was right, and I paid for it myself.
BASH: And you, of course, understand the perception that when you say it came to your attention, that you didn’t pay for it until you got caught.
MENENDEZ: Well, that’s not the case. The bottom line is: When it came to my attention, I paid for it.
The donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, whose South Florida office was raided by federal agents last week, is currently under investigation for Medicare fraud and political corruption. A major Democratic donor, Melgen has a number of high-profile Democratic politicians for friends, including former President Bill Clinton, Virginia gubernatorial Terry McAuliffe, and former Sen. Chris Dodd.
Menendez was not asked about the charge that he advocated on behalf of a business owned by Melgen.