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Sen. Menendez bashes prostitution "smears," defends friendship with eye-doc donor

CNN's Dana Bash and a few reporters caught up with Sen. Bob Menendez over allegations, which he vehemently denies, that he consorted with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Menendez questioned why the mainstream press is covering the "smears" and (to use a previous term of his) "fallacious allegations."

The answer: the FBI raided the South Florida office of his donor and friend Salomon Melgen. And the Senator recently reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for flights to the Dominican Republic.

Here's our wrap-up of the two-day raid on Melgen's office. And here's today's column on the dead ends, twists, turns and mysteries of the case.

Rush transcript from CNN is below the video


DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Senator, could you just say why it took so long to pay back almost $60,000 in flights that you took with your friend?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY:  Well, I was in a big travel schedule in 2010.  I was the chair of the DSCC plus my own campaign getting ready for a reelection cycle.  And in the process of all of that, it unfortunately fell through the cracks that our processes didn't catch moving forward and making sure that we paid.

When it came to my attention that payment had not taken place, I personally paid for them in order to meet my obligations.

BASH:  Because that's a lot of money.  And as chair of the DSCC, you do so much traveling, you know the rules.  And that's a pretty big chunk of money not to pay back.

MENENDEZ:  Well, it's certainly, you know, uh, the responsibility of, uh, myself, when it came to my attention, to do so.  Now, you know, if it came to my attention, uh, had come to my attention before, I would have, in fact, done it before. When it came to my attention, I did what was right and I paid for it myself.

BASH:  And you, of course, understand the perception that you say when it came to your attention, that you didn't pay it -- pay for it until you got caught.

MENENDEZ:  Well, that's not the case.  The bottom line is, when it came to my attention, I paid for it.  You know, there were a series of flights that were alleged.  Several of them were, you know, shown not to be the case.  But after the election, when I got to look at the allegations and I did my own self-inspection, I ultimately came forward.  As a matter of fact, one of those flights, I self-reported.  There wasn't even anybody (INAUDIBLE).

BASH:  One last question.

Can you just answer the allegation that has been out there that you...

MENENDEZ:  The smears?

BASH:  -- that you were with prostitutes there?

MENENDEZ:  The smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election.  And that is totally unsubstantiated.  It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a Web site can drive that type of story into the mainstream.  But that's what they've done successful.

Now, nobody can find them.  No one ever met them.  No one ever talked to them, but that's where we're at.

So the bottom line is all of those smears are absolutely false and, you know, that's the bottom line.

BASH:  Since we're getting this out, just one last question on the contracts, sir...


BASH:  And, Wolf, as we were walking away, I also asked him about the allegations that he was trying to help his friend, Dr. Melgen, who is now somebody who is the owner of a potentially lucrative contract with the Dominican Republic, trying to help him to get that contract enforced.

And his answer was that he was just trying to do whatever he did, it wasn't because of a friend, but trying to do what was right for the policy of the United States with regard to his influence and position as, then, as a subcommittee chair overseeing that region -- Wolf.

CNN Hose Wolf BLITZER:  And he was obviously very anxious to try, from his perspective, Dana, to set the record straight.

BASH:  Yes, he was.

BLITZER:  He had been -- relatively, he had been mum over these past few days, a short written statement from his office, if you will.  So this is the first detailed conversation he's had with a journalist, right?

BASH:  That's right.  He also talked to some of his reporters who he knows well from New Jersey.

But, yes, this is the first detailed conversation that he's had in general.  Not just that, Wolf, he has been actively avoiding reporters.  You know, one of the great things about this beat is that we can talk to the people we cover pretty much every day.  And he has -- he knows -- he knows his way around the Senate, so he can avoid people like me and other reporters.

And he did not do that in this case.  Just the opposite.  He sought us out.  He wanted to talk to us.

Again, I told you, he went all the way from the second floor of the Capitol to the first floor of the Capitol, where we had a camera permitted to be, so that he could talk to us on camera.  And that's what you saw.