Menendez won’t step down despite bribery charges

(The Center Square) — A defiant U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Monday he will seek another term despite federal bribery charges alleging he and his wife accepted cash and gold in exchange for exerting political influence.

Speaking at a press briefing in Union City, the top New Jersey Democrat said he won’t resign from office and says federal prosecutors “got it wrong” with the indictments charging him with bribery and other federal offenses. Menendez was mayor in Union City and a state assemblyman before his last three decades in Washington, from 1993-2006 in the House of Representatives, and since then in the Senate.

“I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated but I will still be New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez told reporters. “Prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that.”

On Friday, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York unsealed a 39-page indictment accusing Menendez and his wife, Nadine, of accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes in exchange for using his political influence to benefit the Egyptian government and business associates in New Jersey.

Menendez and his wife received bribes including cash, gold, luxury vehicles and vacations, help with mortgage payments and other forms of compensation, prosecutors say. Federal agents said a search of his home found more than $480,000 in cash – some of it in envelopes stuffed into a jacket with his name on it – gold bars and a Mercedes Benz.

The indictment says he sought to sway Democratic President Joe Biden’s choice of a top federal prosecutor in New Jersey to benefit one of his business associates, and to pressure the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help an Egyptian businessman preserve a monopoly over the U.S. Halal market, among other claims in the three-count indictment.

Menendez told reporters on Monday that for more than 30 years he has withdrawn “thousands of dollars” in cash from personal bank account for “emergencies” and “because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.”

“Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years,” he said.

Menendez temporarily stepped aside as chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee on Friday, as required by ethics rules adopted by Senate Democrats.

Over the weekend, a string of top Democrats called on Menendez to resign during appearances on cable and network news shows.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy chimed into a chorus of Democrats from Menendez’ home state urging him to step down, calling the indictments “deeply disturbing.”

“Under our legal system, Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges, and we must respect the process,” Murphy, a Democrat, said in a statement. “However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”

On Saturday, Rep. Andy Kim, a third-term Democrat from South Jersey, announced that he will challenge Menendez in next year’s Democratic primary.

This is the second time Menendez has been indicted on allegations of bribery while a senator. In 2015, he was charged with illegally accepting favors from a Florida physician, including trips on a private jet, vacations to Paris and more than $700,000 in political contributions.

The case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Following the mistrial, a federal judge in 2018 acquitted Menendez and co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen of several of the charges. The Justice Department dropped the remaining charges against the senator.

Menendez is up for reelection in the 2024 elections when Democrats will be seeking to retain control of the Senate. In 2018, he was elected to a third term with 54% of the vote, according to New Jersey election results.

During Monday’s press briefing, Menendez defended his record in the Senate and ticked off a list of accomplishments ranging from health care reforms to sponsoring legislation benefiting veterans.

“Some of the people who are calling for my resignation for political reasons say I have lost the trust of the people of New Jersey,” he said. “That couldn’t be more wrong.”

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