Published February 04, 2013
Sen. Robert Menendez now holds one of the most prestigious titles in Congress – chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The New Jersey Democrat officially got the position on Friday afternoon, after the resignation of Sen. John Kerry from the chairmanship took effect. Kerry is now the Secretary of State, succeeding Hillary Clinton.
Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he has the "utmost confidence" in Menendez , and that he is comfortable with his fellow Democrat serving as the chairman of the committee.
Menendez has come under increasing scrutiny over his association with a prominent political donor, an eye doctor named Dr .Salomon Melgen, whose office in Florida was raided by the FBI last week.
One of the allegations Menendez is facing is that he used his position as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere to urge officials in the State and Commerce Departments to advocate for a lucrative port security contract that favored Melgen, according to a report in The Miami Herald.
Menendez has denied inappropriately lobbying for the half-a-billion dollar contract on behalf of the doctor. Melgen, who co-founded Voxxi, an Enlish-language site that targets Latinos, is the owner of ICSSI, a firm looking to enforce a contract it had won to X-ray Dominican Republic port cargo that could be worth $500 million, or $1 billion over two decades, according to the Miami Herald.
In a July 31 hearing, Menendez said he felt U.S. businesses were being unfairly treated by the government of the Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries.
Menendez's office has said that advocating for U.S. business abroad is normal business, especially on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Reid, who made his comments on ABC’s “This Week,” expressed confidence that Menendez "did nothing wrong" in associating with a prominent political donor who appears to be under investigation by the FBI.
Reid added: "But that's what investigations are all about."
On Wednesday, Menendez's office acknowledged that he traveled three times on a plane owned by a Melgen and said the trips were paid for and reported appropriately. At the same time, Menendez's office said unsubstantiated allegations the senator engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic were false.
The Spanish-language news channel, Univision, found one of the women in the Dominican Republic whom the doctor allegedly hired as a prostitute.
The woman, Yaneisi Fernandez, told Univision that she has never been a prostitute and that she has never seen Menendez.
"I’ve never been to Casa de Campo, I’ve never participated in those activities, don’t know those people or that man," Fernandez said in Spanish, according to a transcript.
It remains unclear if the FBI raid of the doctor’s office was at all related to Menendez.
Meanwhile, Republicans, who have stayed relatively quiet publicly about the allegations, fired off an e-mail to the press on Monday.
The Republican National Committee sent the media an e-mail titled: "Amidst Growing Scandal, Sen. Bob Menendez Is Becoming A Headache For Democrats," and included links to several articles about the allegations.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.