Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told reporters Wednesday that he looked forward to clearing his name ahead of his corruption trial that started Wednesday.
"Not once have I dishonored my public office," Menendez told reporters as he entered a New Jersey courthouse. "And I believe when all the facts are known, I will be vindicated."
Menendez is facing federal bribery and conspiracy charges, and is also accused of making false statements. Prosecutors say he intervened on behalf of a major donor, Salomon Melgen, who is involved in multimillion dollar Medicare billing dispute. He is also accused of helping Melgen secure visas for several of his girlfriends from foreign countries in an apparent quid pro quo for campaign donations and lavish trips to his exclusive Dominican Republic resort, which is often frequented by celebrities like Beyonce and Jay Z.
Menendez and Melgen have both offered not guilty pleas, and their defense lawyers have dismissed the notion that the lavish trips were bribes, and say they were merely vacations shared by friends. They also argue that a large portion of Melgen's contributions went to committees that Menendez had little or no involvement with.
"I'm looking forward to finally having the opportunity to seek exoneration," Menendez recently told the Associated Press. "I do believe we'll be exonerated. I did nothing wrong, and I did nothing illegal."
The Menendez case has given Republicans a possible reason to hope that there will be one less Democrat in the Senate this fall, which could help the GOP pass a bill to repeal Obamacare that failed by one vote in July.
He is facing re-election next year. If he is convicted and steps down or is forced out of the Senate by a two-thirds majority vote before Gov. Chris Christie leaves office Jan. 16, the Republican governor would pick a successor. The Democrat in the governor's race appears to have the edge and a significant financial advantage in November's election to replace Christie.
Despite the drama surrounding Menendez, the possible lack of one more Senate Democrat doesn't necessarily make it any easier for Republicans. If all senators are present, Republicans can win some votes with just 50 votes, since Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie. Without Menendez and all senators voting, 50 votes would still be needed in some cases, to get a 50-49 win.
Menendez said he plans to attend his daily trial proceedings but will return to Washington to cast key votes based on whether or not his vote would make a considerable difference. A federal judge ruled last week that the trial would not be put on hold when important Senate votes were scheduled.