Ethics panel probing gifts to US senator
A US Senate ethics panel is reviewing claims the head of the Foreign Relations Committee accepted inappropriate gifts from a Florida donor who flew him to the Dominican Republic, lawmakers said Friday.
US media reported that the FBI conducted a raid on Tuesday on the West Palm Beach offices of Salomon Melgen, a friend who has made financial contributions to the political campaigns of Democratic Senator Robert Menendez.
The Miami Herald said investigators were probing the eye doctor's links to Menendez, and how he flew the senator on his own private jet for a pair of trips to his estate in the Dominican Republic.
"The Ethics Committee will follow its established procedures in this matter," panel member Senator Johnny Isakson said in a statement.
Lawmakers are launching a preliminary investigation, but the panel does not confirm its probes due to confidentiality concerns.
On Wednesday, Menendez issued a statement denying allegations that he and Melgen had held parties with prostitutes.
He also attacked The Daily Caller, a conservative website that has been investigating the trips and accuses the lawmaker of using the visits to take part in the evening events.
None of the allegations have been confirmed by an independent source.
"Senator Menendez has traveled on Dr Melgen's plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately," the statement said.
"Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically-motivated right-wing blog and are false."
The senator's office also said Menendez had recently reimbursed $58,500 for two flights in 2010.
Prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic and Menendez is divorced.
"These are nameless, faceless, anonymous allegations," the senator told reporters who caught up with him Thursday, the first time he has responded to the claims on camera for the first time.
Elected to the Senate in 2006 after a stint in the House of Representatives, Menendez was re-elected in November to a second, six-year mandate.
This week, he succeeded John Kerry as chairman of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee.