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Menendez blasts "absolutely false" prostitution "smears"

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., right. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Allegations that Sen. Robert Menendez engaged with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic while visiting a donor are "smears" being pushed by "right-wing blogs," and are "totally unsubstantiated," the embattled New Jersey Democrat told reporters today.

"It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless, individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they have done successfully," Menendez, who is being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee, said. "Now, nobody can find them, no one ever met them, no one ever talked to them, but that's where we are at. So, the bottom line is all of those smears are absolutely false, and that's the bottom line."

Days before the November election, conservative news site The Daily Caller published an article alleging that Menendez had flown to the Dominican Republic and slept with prostitutes at a resort where Dr. Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor who has made large donations to Menendez, had a home.

Following an FBI raid on Melgen's West Palm Beach, Fla., office last week, Menendez released a statement assuring his relationship with Melgen remains scandal-free. But later the same day, Menendez's office followed that up with a statement saying the senator was reimbursing Melgen $58,000 for two of three trips he took on Melgen's plane to the Dominican Republic in 2010. Ethics rules dictate that senators are required to promptly repay donors for gifts unless the donor is a personal friend; in that case, the senator must receive written approval from the ethics committee for gifts over $250.

Menendez today wrote off the tardy reimbursement as an honest oversight that only came up because of a "self-inspection" he did after the election.

"I was in a big travel schedule in 2010 as the chair if the DSCC, plus my own campaign getting ready for reelection, and in the process of all of that it unfortunately fell through the cracks that our processors didn't catch, making sure that we paid," he said. "When it came to my attention, I did what was right and I paid for it myself."

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