Schumer Refuses To Comment On Fallout From Potential Menendez Conviction

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has refused to comment on the potential implications of fellow Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez corruption trial, saying only that he greatly “respects” the New Jersey lawmaker’s fight.

Schumer will maintain his silence on the question of what happens if Menendez is convicted, Schumer’s spokesperson told the Hill on the first day of Menendez’s corruption trial. Menendez stands accused of accepting bribes from close friend and wealthy South Florida doctor Salomon Melgen, who was recently convicted of defrauding Medicare.

Schumer answered evasively when asked if he “stands” with Menendez during a Wednesday press conference, but did concede respect for how hard the senator is fighting the allegations.

“Senator Menendez is issuing a spirited defense,” Schumer said. “We all believe in the presumption of innocence in this country, and Senator Menendez is fighting very hard, and we respect that greatly.”Melgen, formerly a major Democratic donor, allegedly provided lavish gifts to Menendez in exchange for his intercession in a number of Melgen’s disputes with government officials over various business dealings. Democratic lawmakers have remained largely silent on the trial, while Republicans have already begun planning to ensure that Menendez leaves office if convicted.

Prosecutors allege that the pair entered into a “corrupt pact,” in which Melgen flew Menendez to his Dominican villa on a private jet and provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions. In return, Menendez allegedly used his influence to pressure the Dominican government into honoring a port security contract in which Melgen was heavily invested. Menendez is also accused of lobbying on Melgen’s behalf after the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an $8.9 million over-billing charge against the doctor.

The New Jersey lawmaker proclaimed his innocence outside of the courthouse Wednesday.

“Never, not once have I dishonored my public office,” Menendez said before his trial.

A federal judge rejected Menendez’s request to delay the trial while he attended to congressional business, criticizing the Senator for “seeking special treatment.”

The trial has national implications as a conviction could potentially disrupt the fragile balance of power in the Senate. In the event that Menendez is convicted and forced out of office, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will appoint his replacement.

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