TODAY   |  February 05, 2013

Sen. Menendez: Prostitution ‘smears are untrue’

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez is addressing allegations that he hired a prostitute on a trip to the Dominican Republic, saying they are “totally unsubstantiated.” The campaign donor with whom he traveled is currently under federal investigation. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

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>>> new jersey senator robert menendez is speaking out for the first time about an anonymous online report limpinging him to trips involving prostitutes in trips to the dominican republic . he is denying the report. kelly o'donnell has the report on capitol hill .

>> reporter: he is reacting to the report based on anonymous sources that was posted online right before his re-election in november. i was among a small group of reporters who spoke to menendez right off the senate floor and i made an audio recording of his responses.

>> those smears are exactly that, smears, untrue.

>> reporter: asked directly if he had been with a prostitute, senator menendez , chairman of the foreign relations committee .

>> this hearing of the senate foreign relations committee --

>> reporter: denied that story and grew emotional, saying political enemies launch ed a false attack. the smears -- the smear that is 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 website can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they've done successfully.

>> reporter: a conservative website published the story before the november election. menendez was with prostitutes, it says, during trips to the dominican republic in 2010 .

>> the people of new jersey whose lives have been --

>> reporter: menendez , who is divorced, points out that various news outlets have been unable to verify the various story based on anonymous sources .

>> 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 that all of those smears are absolutely false.

>> reporter: menendez did travel to the dominican republic with a top donor from florida. a multimedia organization that melvin chaired. last week the fbi was at melvin 's west palm beach offices, taking away boxes of material. authorities have not disclosed the focus of the investigation. menendez drew more attention because he just reimbursed melvin last month. more than $58,000 for 2010 travel on melvin 's private plane. menendez had not reported those flights under senate rules but says that was simply an oversight.

>> when it came to my attention that it had not been paid, i came forth and paid it. and so i can't do anything better than that. had i wished that in those travel schedules that we had that we had a better process to make sure it didn't fall through the crack? yes. but when it came to my attention, i did the right thing and i paid for it.

>> reporter: and the senate ethics committee says it's aware of these reports and is doing what it should in its own process. senator harry reid , the majority leader, says whatever investigation should go forward, but he backs bob menendez . savannah?

>> kelly o'donnell on the hill