POLITICS

Sen. Menendez keeps himself busy, vocal as he awaits ruling on trial location

Sen. Menendez during a markup meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 14, 2015.

Sen. Menendez during a markup meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 14, 2015.  (2015 Getty Images)

If the federal corruption charges he faces are bothering him, Sen. Bob Menendez isn’t letting it on.

Despite being federally indicted back in April on 14 counts, including bribery and conspiracy, Menendez has maintained a busy – and vocal – role on the Senate floor: speaking out against normalizing relations with Cuba, blocking deals with countries not certified as combating human trafficking as part of a trade legislation and, most recently, continuing the push to hold Iran accountable as President Barack Obama continues his efforts at nuclear rapprochement.

"I intend to come to the floor again and again to hold Iran accountable for its actions, to keep a laserlike focus on the mullahs in Tehran," Menendez said, according to the Washington Post. "Because I fear that when that spotlight is off ... Iran will pull back into the shadows. And I ask my colleagues: When that happens, and if it goes wrong, what will we do then?"

Menendez has steadfastly maintained his innocence in the face of the charges leveled against him and said he has found motivation to continue his political career because of his responsibility to the people of New Jersey and a wider community of American Latinos.

The indictment charged the New Jersey Democrat over his ties to Dr. Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Dominican doctor and a longtime friend.

Melgen also was charged in the case and is currently behind bars in Florida.

The indictment from a grand jury in New Jersey was the latest development in a federal investigation that came into public view when federal authorities raided Melgen's medical offices two years ago. The investigation focused on whether the senator had improperly advocated on Melgen's behalf, including by intervening in a Medicare billing dispute.

While Menendez maintaining the spotlight amid the corruption charges is rare for any politician embroiled in controversy, what is even rarer is the amount of support that he still has among residents in New Jersey – on both sides of the political divide.

A Monmouth University poll from May found that while state residents believe Menendez did what he is accused of, they also believe – by a 20-to-1 margin, that he should be allowed to stay in office. Menendez’s popularity rating in the state is currently great than Gov. Christ Christie's, who is running for president.

"This is much fuzzier than much of the almost routine corruption in New Jersey," David Redlawsk, a Rutgers University political science professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, told The Washington Post. "To many people. . . the feeling is, isn’t this just politics?"

The Monmouth poll also found that half of those familiar with the case against Menendez believe it is the result of retaliation from his political enemies – namely President Obama – and only about one-third says it is not related to politics.

"There’s a strong belief that he is being actually almost persecuted," said state Democratic Sen. Raymond Lesniak. "He’s a fierce fighter and has fought many battles on behalf of constituents, and people respect that."

A judge is expected to rule this week on whether the corruption case against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez should be moved from New Jersey to Washington, an issue that has sharply divided the two sides at the outset of what is expected to be a contentious prelude to a trial.

Attorneys are scheduled to argue before U.S. District Judge William Walls on Tuesday in Newark. A trial is tentatively scheduled for mid-October, though Menendez's attorneys are expected to file multiple motions to dismiss the charges that could force delays.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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