Senator Menendez, amid probe, says he's honest, law-abiding

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Senator Menendez, amid probe, says he's honest, law-abiding
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) departs after speaking at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Newark New Jersey. Menendez is expected to face Federal corruption charges for allegedly using his office for the benefit of donors. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Committee Ranking Member Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) listens to witnesses during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on U.S. and Cuban relations in Washington, D.C. on February 3, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 15: U.S. Sen. Senator Robert Menendez addresses the media in advance of an event with U.S. President Barack Obama December 15, 2014 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Obama will address the troops to thank them for their service and mark the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan. ahead of the upcoming holidays. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
US Senator Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee makes opening remarks June 5, 2014 at the start of hearings Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony on 'Development in Ukraine.' AFP PHOTO / Karen BEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, speaks as he introduces Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for Johnson's nomination to be Homeland Security secretary in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on November 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 3: From left, ranking member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J. conduct the Senate Foreign Relations mark up hearing to authorize for use of military force in Syria on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks during a press conference on an agreement for principles on comprehensive immigration reform framework at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez talks during a news conference at the Secaucus Public Safety Marina, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Secaucus, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Sen. Robert Menendez listens to a question in Newark, N.J. on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 after demanding that the Federal Emergency Management Administration investigate allegations that insurers are manipulating flood damage claims to shortchange Sandy victims. A federal judge in New York recently found evidence that flood insurance companies have had damage assessors alter reports so they could pay less to policyholders. (APA Photo/Mel Evans)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., addresses the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Menendez, who has maintained that he never paid prostitutes for sex, said he is looking forward to whatever evidence emerges from courts in the Dominican Republic to vindicate him. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 file photograph, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., right, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., left, announce with other senators that they have reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation's immigration laws, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. Menendez, whose political career began in a place with a reputation as one of the most corrupt corners of the nation, has often found himself the focus of ethics allegations. To his critics, he's the bad guy who always wiggles away; to defenders, he's a figure who is persecuted in whispers and investigations, rather than findings or indictments. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
US Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ (2L) participates in a reenacted swearing-in with his son Robert Menendez and daughter Alicia Jacobsen Menendez and US Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. The 113th US Congress, featuring dozens of new faces in the House and Senate, convened Thursday fresh from the year-end 'fiscal cliff' fiasco, as lawmakers cast a wary eye towards the tough budget battles ahead. AFP PHOTO / Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, answers questions, with his daughter Alicia Menendez, right, after voting in Hoboken, N.J. on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006. (AP Photo/Tim Larsen)
FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 2, 2006 file photograph, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., third from right, raises arms with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., second from right, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, right, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., second from left, during a campaign rally for Menendez in Hoboken, N.J. Also in the group are Menendez' son, Rob, third from left, and his daughter, Alicia, left. Menendez is running against state Sen. Tom Kean Jr, for U.S. Senate from New Jersey. In January 2013, the Sen. Menendez’s role in Washington grew as he became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and was a major player in a bipartisan Senate plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. At the same time, he has been in the familiar situation of fending off charges of impropriety. He’s repaid a donor for travel in a private jet and tried to shoot down stories that he’s patronized prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. (AP Photo/Mike Derer, File)
NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 01: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference on April 1, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. According to reports, Menendez has been indicted on federal corruption charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Amid a federal investigation, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez insists he has always been honest in his more than 20 years in Congress and says he is "not going anywhere" even as a person familiar with the matter says he's expected to face criminal charges soon.

The New Jersey Democrat has been dogged by questions about his relationship with a Florida doctor and political donor, whose office was raided by authorities two years ago. Now charges are expected to be filed against Menendez in the coming weeks, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is pending.

Attorney General Eric Holder declined to say whether he has authorized criminal charges against the senator.

At a news conference Friday in his home state, Menendez spoke in English and Spanish, chopping his hand down for emphasis.

"Let me be very clear, I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law," he said. "Every action that I and my office have taken for the last 23 years that I have been privileged to be in the United States Congress has been based on pursuing the best policies for the people of New Jersey and this entire country."

He said he couldn't take questions "because there is an ongoing inquiry."

Menendez, who served for more than a decade in the House of Representatives before joining the Senate in 2006, is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has been critical of negotiations between President Barack Obama's administration and Iran on its nuclear program and outspoken in opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba.

Scrutiny of his ties to Dr. Salomon Melgen, an ophthalmologist, has focused on trips Menendez took to the Dominican Republic aboard Melgen's private plane. He has acknowledged taking several actions that could have appeared to benefit Melgen, including contacting a Medicare agency to urge changes to a payment policy that had cost Melgen millions of dollars.

Menendez said he has been friends with Melgen for two decades.

"We celebrated holidays together," he said. "We have been there for family weddings and sad times like funerals and have given each other birthday, holiday and wedding presents just as friends do."

The senator's failure to reimburse Melgen for flights between the Dominican Republic and south Florida and New Jersey on the eye doctor's luxury jet was the first serious signal of his legal troubles in early 2013. Menendez and Melgen had flown at least twice in 2010, but the trips went without reimbursement for more than two years.

After news reports in early 2013 raised concerns about lack of payment for the flights, watchdogs complained to the Senate Ethics Committee, which agreed to review the cases. Menendez agreed to reimburse Melgen $58,500.

Menendez's office later disclosed a third flight, from Florida to New Jersey in 2011, saying he had repaid Melgen $11,250 for it.

Last year, the senator disclosed his campaign accounts had paid a law firm $250,000 for legal costs related to Department of Justice and Senate Ethics Committee investigations of his ties to the Floridian.

The flights were just one vestige of the close relations between Menendez and Melgen, a multimillionaire who lavished campaign donations on his friend and allied causes.

The two men often appeared together at Democratic Party and Latino political functions from Washington to Miami. Melgen has contributed nearly $200,000 to Democratic Party candidates since 1998, including $14,200 to Menendez. And in 2012, during Menendez's re-election campaign, Melgen gave $700,000 to a super political action committee that spent more than $580,000 to help Menendez.

Melgen earned renewed scrutiny when government data last year showed he had gotten more money in Medicare reimbursements in 2012 than any other doctor in the country.

A glimpse into the investigation emerged last week, when it was revealed that a federal appeals court had ordered a hearing to determine whether two of Menendez' aides should be compelled to testify before a grand jury about the senator's efforts on behalf of Melgen.

The New Jersey Law Journal reported that the appeals court identified two issues: a billing dispute Melgen had with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a deal he had to sell port screening equipment to the Dominican Republic government.

The aides have declined to testify about some actions they took, citing a constitutional provision saying a lawmaker can't be questioned about legislative acts anywhere except in Congress.

___

Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler in Columbia, South Carolina, and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.

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