✪ Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) spoke out publicly for the first time on Monday following his indictment on federal bribery charges last week, rejecting growing pressure from fellow Democrats to resign, claiming they have “rushed to judgment.”
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hroughout this whole process, I firmly believe after all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I will still be New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez said, speaking from Hudson County Community College in Union City, New Jersey, the city where he grew up and got his political start.
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“To those who have rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts framed by the prosecution to be as salacious as possible,” Menendez added. “Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes.”
Menendez and his wife, Nadine, were accused of taking bribes of gold bars, cash, and a luxury car in exchange for aiding the government of Egypt and businessmen in New Jersey on Friday, according to a copy of the indictment. Investigators found $550,000 in cash and 13 bars of gold during a search of his home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and a safety deposit box last year. Prosecutors also claim the senator and his wife allegedly “pressured” a U.S. agricultural official to protect an exclusive contract for a New Jersey businessman to be the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt.
The veteran lawmaker has denied the charges, calling them “baseless” and denouncing them as a “smear campaign.” He has previously said he is being targeted because he is a prominent Latino. While Menendez did not mention the gold bars, he said the huge stash of cash found at his home was for emergencies.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” he said. “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. I look forward to addressing other issues in trial.”
The indictment comes as the New Jersey senator faces reelection in 2024. Before the indictment was released publicly, Menendez made it clear that he intended to run for reelection at numerous events. He didn’t specifically announce his intention to run again in 2024, but he signaled he will not be influenced by growing calls for the senator to resign.
“For now, I remain focused on continuing to do the important work I do every day on behalf of the 9 million people who call New Jersey home, including doing everything we can this week to avoid a government shutdown,” Menendez said.
His decision to remain in the Senate could complicate Democrats’ efforts to maintain their slim 51-49 majority. Some Democrats fear the latest developments have the potential to flip the safe Democratic seat to a Republican for the first time since 1972.
“Our majority is on the line right now, and unfortunately, the senator is just a ticking time bomb,” a Democrat Senate aide said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Many of us knew there were feds investigating the senator, but I don’t think anyone could have anticipated things would be as serious as they are right now.”
Many prominent New Jersey Democrats have called on the 69-year-old senator to resign, including Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ), members of the state legislature, and the majority of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation. So far, only one Democrat senator has called on Menendez to resign, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA).
Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) announced on Saturday he intends to challenge Menendez in a primary for his seat. In a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, Kim said he felt the need to run against the senator in the wake of the indictment.
“Not something I expected to do, but NJ deserves better,” Kim wrote in the post. “We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our integrity.” Menendez has one other declared opponent in the Democratic primary: real estate lender Kyle Jasey.
While Menendez continues to denounce calls for his resignation, he was required to step down as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to rules in the Senate Democratic Caucus. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) will replace the chairman. In his remarks on Monday, the senator attempted to highlight his record with Egypt.
Menendez said on Monday:
“If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment, and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable for its unjust detention of American citizens and others, its human rights abuses, its deepening relationship with Russia, and efforts that have eroded the independence of the nation’s judiciary, among a myriad of concerns.”
Menendez’s previous position leading the critical panel gave him considerable influence over billions of dollars in foreign military assistance to Cairo, which includes $1.3 billion in funding every year for decades.
The latest indictment comes about five years after Menendez faced a different set of corruption charges. A 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts. The prior charges were surrounding his relationship with a friend and Democrat donor after there were allegations Menendez used his Senate office to promote the donor’s interests.
So far, the majority of Senate Democrats have been reluctant to say whether their colleague should step aside but have acknowledged the seriousness of the charges.
“You’d think it would be a no-brainer to say someone who took gold bars from foreign businessmen to rig U.S. foreign policy is unfit to serve in the Senate, but apparently Senate Democrats disagree,” Philip Letsou, spokesman for the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, said in a statement. “Democrats have made clear they will tolerate Bob Menendez’s comical levels of corruption as long as he continues to back their extreme agenda.”
During an appearance on MSNBC on Sunday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee with Menendez, questioned if the New Jersey senator can “be effective” in his role given the allegations but said he wants “to get back and talk to my colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee before I recommend a path forward.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement on Friday that Menendez “has a right to due process and a fair trial.”✪
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