U.S. Senator Menendez pleads not guilty to corruption charges

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez pleads not guilty to corruption charges and vows to prove his innocence. Liberal Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland will temporarily replace Menendez as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES (APRIL 2, 2015) (NBC) – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey entered a not guilty plea on corruption charges during a federal court appearance on Thursday (April 2) and was released without bail.

Menendez, a Democrat, was charged on Wednesday (April 1) with accepting lavish gifts from Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, in exchange for political favors.

Melgen also entered a not guilty plea and was released on $1.5 million (USD) bond.

Neither man spoke during the appearance in a Newark, New Jersey, courtroom. Menendez, in a blue striped suit, rested his arms on the table in front of him as he listened to the hearing, which lasted less than an hour.

Upon leaving court, Menendez spoke to reporters and promised he would be vindicated.

“For nearly three years the Justice Department has pursued allegations based on smears, launched by political opponents trying to silence me. Now they have laid out their case, we will finally have an opportunity to respond, on the record, in court, with the facts. As I said yesterday, these allegations are false and I am confident that they will be proven false and I look forward to doing so in court,” he said.

The federal indictment said Melgen improperly gave Menendez flights on private jets, use of a Caribbean villa, a stay at a luxury hotel in Paris and tens of thousands of dollars to a legal defense fund.

In return, Menendez used the power of his Senate office to influence the outcome of Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to Melgen, the indictment said.

Menendez has temporarily stepped aside as the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Liberal Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland will replace Menendez as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, a Senate aide said on Thursday.

If Menendez ultimately is forced to resign, it would raise the possibility of handing Republicans a 55th Senate seat, which would strengthen their hand in policy fights with Democratic President Barack Obama.

The next court date was set for April 22.

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