UPDATED 4/1/2015 5:45 EDT: This article has been updated to include responses from other elected officials.
WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. Menendez is accused of using his office to help a Florida eye doctor who was a campaign donor.
Menendez was indicted by a New Jersey grand jury on more than 14 charges, according to the AP, including bribery and conspiracy. The charges stem from Menendez’s dealings with Florida Dr. Salomon Melgen. He too was charged by federal authorities.
Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, repeatedly has denied any wrongdoings, but did say he inquired with federal agencies about billing procedures on Melgen’s behalf. "I'm not going anywhere," Menendez said in March when news of the pending federal charges became public.
"Incredibly, the DOJ issued the indictment to the media first," spokeswoman Tricia Enright said when asked for a response to news of the indictment. "This is incredible, but not surprising given their unprecedented leaks throughout this process. But it stinks and every person knows it."
Menendez has been under scrutiny from the Department of Justice for years now. The first signs of trouble for Menendez were two years ago when officials raided Melgen’s offices under charges that he was improperly billing Medicare. According to officials, Menendez intervened in Melgen’s billing dispute.
The two men have said they have been close friend for years. And Menendez has acknowledged flying on Melgen’s private jet and staying at his residence in the Dominican Republic, where he owns a home. In 2012, while the New Jersey senator was running for re-election, a conservative website published stories accusing Menendez of patronizing prostitutes while he was at Melgen’s home in the Dominican Republic. Federal officials later said those accusations were false but they did not stop investigating his ties to Melgen.
Menendez is the first sitting senator to be indicted since Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008, who was later convicted of not reporting gifts. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department has filed cases against several sitting politicians, including Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Democrats Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
A group of Democrats moved quickly to defend Menendez. “Bob Menendez has never given me any reason to question his integrity, his dedication to honest public service or his commitment to the American people,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois said in a statement. “As a leader in the House and in the Senate, he has been a key ally in fighting for sensible immigration reform and a touchstone for all matters related to Latinos in this country."
A Twitter account was launched under the name "I Stand With Bob" and featured smiling photos of the senator. The account tweeted statements defending him from various politicians.
— I Stand With Bob (@IStandWithBob) April 1, 2015
Fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker quickly came to his defense. "Sen. Menendez has never wavered in his commitment to the people of New Jersey," Booker said in a statement. "He’s been an invaluable resource and a mentor to me since I arrived in the Senate. Our system of justice is designed to be fair and impartial, and it presumes innocence before guilt. I won’t waiver in my commitment to stand alongside my senior Senator to serve our great state. Our nation and state face critical issues and I will continue to partner with Sen. Menendez to take on the challenges before you."