Schumer Curt When Asked About Menendez: ‘He Is Issuing a Spirited Defense’ and ‘We Respect That Greatly’

• September 6, 2017 5:07 pm


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) gave a curt response to a reporter's question about the bribery trial of Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) that started Wednesday.

Menendez is facing 12 counts of corruption charges, including bribery, stemming from his interactions with lobbyists and donors. Prosecutors argue Menendez took bribes from Dr. Salomon Melgen in exchange for help on a billing dispute with the government.

"Are you going to stand by [Menendez] through his trial?" a Capitol Hill reporter asked Schumer.

"Look, Senator Menendez is issuing a spirited defense," Schumer replied brusquely.

"We all believe in the presumption of innocence in this country, and Senator Menendez is fighting very hard and we respect that greatly," Schumer added. "Next question."

Democrats have respected Menendez even amid his corruption allegations. Many other Democratic senators have taken campaign money from Menendez this year through his political action committee, New Millennium, despite his 2015 indictment for corruption.

Menendez's PAC contributed $10,000 to various Democratic senators' campaigns, including Debbie Stabenow's (Mich.), Jon Tester's (Mont.), Kirsten Gillibrand's (N.Y.), and former Hillary Clinton running mate Tim Kaine's (Va.).

Other Democratic senators received $5,000, such as Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Democrats have not spoken often about Menendez, whose trial has been eclipsed by other stories dominating the news. A New York Times write-up on the trial did not even mention Mendendez's party affiliation until various complaints caused the publication to include it.

His defense may be spirited, but it is unclear whether Menendez is off to great start in his trial. On Wednesday morning the federal judge overseeing the trial told Menendez's lawyer to "shut up" during a dispute about court procedure.

Menendez maintains that he has not "dishonored" his Senate office.

"I have committed my entire adult life, since I was 19, to fighting for the people of New Jersey," Menendez told reporters before going into the courtroom Wednesday. "Never, not once, not once have I dishonored my public office."