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Menendez 'Outraged' By His Indictment On Corruption Charges


A powerful senator from New Jersey has been indicted on federal corruption charges - eight counts bribery - after accepting gifts from a Florida doctor in exchange for favors. NPR's Ailsa Chang has the story.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Since reports first surfaced that New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez may have traded political favors for trips on a private jet and other gifts, he has remained defiant and gone on the offensive. In Newark yesterday, Menendez said the problem with prosecutors in the Justice Department is that they don't know the difference between friendship and corruption.


SENATOR ROBERT MENENDEZ: I'm outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigation three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me. But I will not be silenced. I'm confident...


CHANG: Prosecutors claim a Florida ophthalmologist, who's also being charged, showered the senator with gifts, like vacations in the Dominican Republic. And Menendez allegedly helped the doctor out by getting travel visas for his foreign girlfriends and by urging the White House to change its Medicare reimbursement rules. That would have resulted in a windfall for the doctor.


MENENDEZ: I am confident, at the end of the day, I will be vindicated and they will be exposed.

CHANG: Menendez is the 12th senator indicted while in office. The most recent was Alaska Republican Ted Stevens, who saw his case get dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct. To some who watch New Jersey politics, the indictment against Menendez continues a tradition for Hudson County, where the senator got his political start.

ROSS BAKER: Well, you know, the thing is you come out of Hudson County, it's sort of like you're dressed in Velcro - almost everything sticks to you.

CHANG: Ross Baker, who teaches political science at Rutgers University, says the county has become infamous for corruption scandals.

BAKER: Politics in New Jersey is not ideological, it's transactional. It's all about deals - deals with real estate, deals with insurance, deals with development.

CHANG: And Baker claims many of these deals often skirt the boundaries of legality. Menendez has insisted from the beginning the gifts he received from the doctor were gestures of friendship, not evidence of any quid pro quo. And while he makes his case, he'll be stepping down from his perch as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee just as the Senate is prepared to take up a controversial bill on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.

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