Sen. Menendez maintains innocence following Senate admonishment

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EDISON -

Sen. Bob Menendez is maintaining his innocence against accepted bribes following his public admonishment by the Senate Ethics Committee.

"My understanding of the rules at the time, I thought what we were doing was totally legitimate. And in retrospect, you know, obviously on some of those I was wrong and we corrected it and we are clear about that moving forward,” Menendez said at an event in Edison Thursday.

The Democratic senator faced trial last year in federal court for bribery and fraud for allegedly accepting gifts from longtime friend, Florida Dr. Salomon Melgen, in exchange for political favors. That corruption case ended in a mistrial and the Justice Department later chose not to retry Menendez.

RELATED: Senate Ethics Committee admonishes Sen. Bob Menendez
VIDEO: Sen. Menendez responds to ethics committee rebuke

But the Senate Ethics Committee said he "knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value." They ordered Menendez to repay the market value of all improper gifts he has not already repaid.

"We are inquiring the committee because, from my perspective, my understanding is that we have paid everything that was outstanding. And so we have to see their interpretation of what they believe that is,” Menendez said.

Menendez is up for re-election this year. His likely challenger in November's election is businessman Bob Hugin. Hugin calls Menendez "an embarrassment to our state."

But a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that the senator is favored by 17 points.

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