Politics

Former Obama Spox: Menendez’s 2013 Interview Answers ‘Didn’t Really Pass the Smell Test’

Former Obama communications director Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Sen. Robert Menendez's (D., N.J) excuses for failing to repay a major gift "didn't really pass the smell test."

Menendez is currently standing trial in federal court on 12 corruption-related charges, including six counts of bribery. His case stems from his long and seemingly lucrative relationship with mega-donor and Florida ophthalmologist Dr. Salomon Melgen.

Psaki appeared on CNN's "The Lead," where host Jake Tapper played a 2013 clip in which CNN reporter Dana Bash asked Menendez why he took so long to pay back $60,000 for multiple flights with Melgen. Menendez attributed the oversight to his busy travel schedule as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and to his preparation for his reelection campaign.

"This does put Democrats in an awkward position, not just because they need his vote — and he has been told that he doesn't get to skip the trial to attend votes — but also at some point there's going to be a verdict and every Democrat's going to have to say whether or not Sen. Menendez, especially if the verdict is a bad one for him, whether or not he needs to resign," Tapper said.

Psaki noted that both Republicans and Democrats have faced similar allegations. But she also admitted that Menendez's interview answers "didn't really pass the smell test."

"It is true that some of the flights, as he said, were not problematic, but it's hard to understand," Psaki said. "Democrats should start thinking about it. We have to think about the greater whole here. Obviously we should see what the outcome is, but it's going to be an upcoming challenge."

David Urban, a former campaign strategist for Donald Trump's presidential campaign, said that it is important not to rush to judgment on the criminal trial.

"It's quite likely that [Menendez] may be telling the truth, and that it was a very confusing travel schedule. I'm not trying to defend Sen. Menendez, but he may have been telling the truth. It's a very complex travel schedule these members take," Urban said.

Psaki added that Menendez's staff may very well be to blame.

"You have to be so careful about how things are paid for," Psaki said. "All of these are lessons for people who have up-and-coming and rising members who are going to be taking on chairmanships of committees."

"We shouldn't rush to judgment, but it's a reminder," she said.