In a defiant speech, US Senator Robert Menendez denounced charges brought against him by federal prosecutors, who claimed he illegally used his position to help the Egyptian government in exchange for bribes.
“For anyone who has known me for 50 years of public service, they know I have always fought for what is right,” said the indicted lawmaker, who is the first sitting US Senator in history to be twice indicted for separate crimes.
The New Jersey Democrat insisted that he would not step down, rejecting demands from political leaders who supported him in 2018, including Governor Phil Murphy and every Democratic member of New Jersey’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The list of Democrats who have called on Menendez to step down since Friday include Gov. Phil Murphy, Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Bill Pascrell, Frank Pallone, Donald Norcross, and Josh Gottheimer, as well as Rep. Andy Kim, who has already announced he will challenge Menendez.
Senator Cory Booker endorsed Menendez and testified on behalf of his character during the 2017 criminal trial but he has avoided commenting on the latest indictment.
“To those who have rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts framed by the prosecution as salacious as possible,” said Menendez at his news conference. “Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that.”
Menendez claims that he had a justification for the jacket filled with cash and of gold bars used as a payoff for attempting to help associates dodge criminal charges, photos of which were included with the indictment.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in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,” Menendez 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.”
The indicted lawmaker was vague about whether he plans to run for re-election when his term is up next year,
Menendez said the cash investigators turned up at his house was merely for emergencies, although the $560,000 exceeds the value of assets he reported on his public financial disclosure statements.
Menendez said he would continue to work on Capitol Hill, ignoring calls from colleagues there to resign amid allegations of bribery.
His announcement that he would stay in office came at a news conference in Union City, New Jersey, during which he outlined his work atop the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, and as a senator representing New Jersey.
He offered an explanation for the thousands of dollars in cash found in suit pockets in his home, saying the money was withdrawn from his own savings account, a family habit picked up during their years in Cuba.
Menendez is accused of accepting bribes in an indictment that refers to “gold” 26 times and prosecutors say that 13 gold bars were found in his home, but gold is rarely mentioned in the financial disclosure forms the lawmaker has been required to file annually as a senator, showing up for the first time last year.
The 39-page indictment describes a far-reaching web of political corruption involving financial aid and weapons sales to Egypt and efforts by Menendez to persuade state and federal prosecutors to go easy on his associates in criminal cases.
President Joe Biden’s administration approved a massive arms sale to Egypt valued at about $2.5 billion, despite President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s poor human rights record.
The sale includes 12 Super Hercules C-130 transport aircraft and related equipment worth $2.2 billion plus air defense radar systems worth an estimated $355m million.
The reporting lapses that federal prosecutors in Manhattan noted on his Senate financial disclosure forms might seem to pale in comparison but they could also suggest an effort to hide his newfound wealth to evade notice by the Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics and that may also be a crime.
“Knowingly and willfully filing a false personal financial disclosure report can result in a civil penalty of up to $50,000,” said Brett Kappel, a Washington-based lawyer and expert in campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics. “It may also be prosecuted as a violation of the False Statements Act — a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.”
He is the first sitting US senator to be indicted twice on separate criminal charges, including the current corruption indictment against him and his wife and earlier corruption charges Menendez faced in 2015 which were ultimately dismissed when an 11-week trial ended in a hung jury.
In a defiant speech to reporters, New Jersey’s Democratic senator Robert Menendez rejected charges brought against him by federal prosecutors, who claimed he illegally used his position to help the Egyptian government in exchange for bribes. He made clear he would not step down, but remained vague about whether he’d run for re-election, and said the cash investigators turned up at his house was merely for emergencies.