Senator Robert Menendez and his wife at an official dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House, Washington, D.C. December 1, 2022/Reuters
Senior U.S. Senator Bob Menendez was charged Friday with serious corruption charges for allegedly using his influence over U.S. foreign relations for personal gain. The Democratic senator is accused of aiding the Egyptian regime and thwarting a criminal investigation of his associates in exchange for gold bullion and cash.
The New Jersey senator was forced to step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the wake of the charges, but he rejected calls for his resignation from fellow Republicans and other state officials, including Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. Murphy said the allegations were "so serious" that they would undermine Menendez's ability to serve in office.
It is the second indictment in eight years against the 69-year-old congressman, detailing an illegal mix between his pledge to act in the interests of the United States and his private interests in forging close ties with wealthy businessmen.
Menendez will also be prosecuted alongside his wife, and three New Jersey businessmen who prosecutors say showered the couple with money, gold and a luxury car in exchange for favors. Menendez's previous indictment, based on other allegations, ended in 2017 without a jury verdict.
Menendez, in response to calls for his resignation, said in a statement, "I'm not going anywhere." He accused the prosecution of misrepresenting "the normal work of a congressional office" and said he would not allow his Senate work to be distracted by "baseless allegations."
Money, gold bullion and luxury car found in searches of Senator Bob Menendez are displayed at a prosecution press conference, September 22, 2023/Reuters
Prosecutors said investigators found more than $100,480 worth of gold bullion in Menendez's home last year, as well as more than $300,<> in cash, most of them hidden in closets, clothes and a safe, prosecutors said.
Photos from the indictment showed cash crammed into envelopes in coats bearing Menendez's name. Investigators also said they discovered Menendez's Google search for the phrase "pound of gold" and the DNA of one man who prosecutors said bribed him on an envelope filled with thousands of dollars.
One allegation is that Menendez directly intervened in criminal investigations, including by pushing to appoint a federal prosecutor in New Jersey who he believed could be influenced in a criminal case against a businessman and associate of the senator. Prosecutors say he also tried to use his position of power to try to interfere in a separate criminal investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.
Other allegations include repeated actions by Menendez on behalf of Egypt, despite U.S. government concerns about human rights in the country, which have led Congress to impose restrictions on aid to Cairo in recent years. His efforts include writing an anonymous letter to his Senate colleagues encouraging them to lift the delay in $<> million in aid to Egypt, one of the countries with the most American economic support. In addition, he is accused of passing information to Egyptian officials on military matters.
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Menendez is a key ally of his party colleague, President Joe Biden, who seeks to reestablish U.S. influence on the global stage, rally support for congressional aid to Ukraine and contain China. He faces re-election next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington and maintain a slim Democratic majority in the Senate.
"For years, behind-the-scenes forces have repeatedly tried to silence my voice and dig my political grave," Menendez said. "Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of insinuations and anonymous sources to create an atmosphere of impropriety where it does not exist."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Menendez would step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee "until the matter is resolved," in line with party rules. Schumer stopped short of calling for him to resign, saying he deserved due process.
Menendez is believed to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history to be indicted in two separate criminal cases. His first trial, in which he was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a matter involving a Florida ophthalmologist who showered him with gifts and campaign donations, ended without a jury verdict and the indictment was dropped.
Prosecutors now allege that Menendez and his wife received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three business partners — Wael Hanna, Jose Uribe and Fred Daves. They say he used his influence to push for Philip Salinger to be appointed federal prosecutor because he believed he could influence him to help Daves, an old friend and New Jersey real estate developer who was embroiled in criminal activity. Salinger, who currently holds office, is not charged with any wrongdoing.
David Schertler, a lawyer for Menendez's wife, Nadine, said she "denies any criminal behavior and will vigorously fight these allegations in court."
Daves pleaded guilty last year to bank fraud charges and is scheduled to be sentenced next month. As part of the plea deal, he will only serve a suspended sentence. The White House declined to comment on the indictment, including Biden's appointment of Salinger.
Lawyers for Daves and Uribe have yet to respond to requests for comment. Hanna's spokesman, Steven Goldberg, said the indictment was still under investigation, but the allegations appeared to have "no basis."
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