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Menendez Should Not Lose Chairmanship, Lautenberg Says

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., said today that he doesn’t believe the chairmanship of his embattled colleague — Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. — is endangered as allegations mount about his connection to a Florida eye doctor whose offices were recently raided by the FBI.

Menendez is the newly installed chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Asked whether Menendez’s post was in jeopardy, Lautenberg said, “Not as is I see it. Bob Menendez is a good senator, and decisions will be made in the review as to whether there is veracity or not.”

Menendez has been battling mounting allegations that he attempted to aid Florida ophthalmologist and campaign donor Salomon Melgen in his dealings with federal authorities.

Melgen has given more than $1 million directly and indirectly to Menendez and committees supporting him over the course of their friendship, new disclosures show.

Asked whether Menendez should step down temporarily while any potential ethics investigation is going on, Lautenberg said, “It’s not for me to conduct Bob Menendez’s decisions. He’s been a good senator; we’ve worked on a lot of things together. We’ll have to let the forces of review do whatever” they decide.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the panel are mum about Menendez’s situation. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., deflected a question Wednesday by saying it’s the Ethics Committee’s jurisdiction.

“Look, that’s one thing I stay out of. All I know is what you write, and so I can’t make a judgment on that. We have an Ethics Committee, if it needs to be referred to that, which I am not a member of,” McCain said.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, who, like McCain, sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, also refused to answer questions about Menendez.

Lautenberg’s comments come after the New York Times editorial board called for Menendez to step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations panel.

Others have also called for a fast and through investigation.

“The stories suggest a link between the senator’s actions and a six-figure donation to his re-election campaign last year,” Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, said in a news release Tuesday. “This is a serious matter, and Sen. Menendez should cooperate fully and promptly in seeing that it is thoroughly investigated.

“The flood of outside spending unleashed by the Roberts court has created a toxic stew of money and power that threatens the health of our democracy and unwary public officials,” Edgar said. “The system has become the scandal, and it’s going to take some serious new anti-corruption laws to clean up this mess.”

Emily Cadei contributed to this report.

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