Senator Bob Menendez came under intense pressure to resign on Tuesday as a growing number of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, including fellow New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, urged him to step aside over the federal bribery charges against him.
More than two dozen Senate Democrats have now said Menendez should resign, including several Democrats who are running for re-election next year. Calls for his resignation quickly followed Booker’s statement, including from the head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, Senator Gary Peters of Michigan. Menendez has refused to leave office but has not yet said whether he will run for re-election next year.
Menendez, former chairman and top Democrat on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his wife Nadine are accused in an indictment released Friday of using his position to help Egypt’s authoritarian government and pressure federal prosecutors to drop a case against a friend. , among other allegations of corruption. The three-count indictment alleges that three New Jersey businessmen received bribes – gold bars, a luxury car and cash – in exchange for the corrupt acts.
In his statement, Booker said that while Menendez deserves the presumption of innocence, senators must be held to a higher standard, and that the details of the allegations against Menendez have shaken the faith and trust of his constituents “to the core.” He said the indictment against Menendez includes “shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of misconduct.”
“As senators, we operate in the trust of the public,” Booker said. “That trust is essential to our ability to do our work and fulfill our duties to our constituents.”
Menendez has denied all wrongdoing, saying he merely acted as any senator would and that the nearly half a million dollars in cash found in his home — including some in clothing bags — came from personal savings and at the hand was kept for emergencies. According to the criminal complaint, authorities found approximately 10 cash-filled envelopes that contained the fingerprints of one of the other defendants in the case.
Menendez, his wife and two co-suspects of the businessmen will be arraigned on Wednesday.
Another defendant, Wael Hana, was arrested at New York’s Kennedy Airport on Tuesday after voluntarily returning from Egypt to face the charges. According to the indictment, Hana acted as a conduit to Menendez for Egyptian military and intelligence officials, relaying messages to and from the senator and organizing meetings.
Menendez’s defiance in recent days is similar to his insistence that he was innocent after first facing federal bribery charges eight years ago — a case that ended with a deadlocked jury in 2017. the Foreign Relations panel, under the rules of the Senate Democratic caucus. But he has otherwise made it clear that he is not going anywhere.
“I recognize that this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this trial, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be acquitted, but I will still have the senior senator from New Jersey,” Menendez said Monday on the campus of Hudson County Community College in Union City, where he grew up.
However, calls for his resignation are in stark contrast to his first case. And Booker’s call is especially important in the clubby Senate, where home-state colleagues tend to refrain from publicly criticizing each other. Booker and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina testified as character witnesses in Menendez’s latest trial.
Growing Democratic calls for Menendez’s resignation put increased pressure on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders, who have so far failed to recommend Menendez resign. Schumer has not commented on the charges since saying in a statement Friday that Menendez would resign from the foreign relations panel.
The White House also refused to intervene. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One that “the senator did the right thing by resigning his presidency.” She did not say whether President Joe Biden thought he should resign his seat, nor would she comment on how his presence would affect public confidence in the Senate.
“That’s the Senate leadership’s job to talk to, that’s Senator Menendez’s job to talk to,” she said.
Democratic senators who called on Menendez to resign on Monday and Tuesday included Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jon Tester of Montana, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
The Democratic Sens. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, Peter Welch of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio all called for his resignation over the weekend. Calls from the Senate Democratic caucus were expected to increase.
If Menendez runs for re-election, he will face at least one challenger in the primaries: Democratic Rep. Andy Kim announced this weekend that he will run for Senate over the charges against the state’s senior senator.
And Menendez would likely be a candidate without his party’s support. Peters, who called for his resignation on Tuesday, is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which provides campaign support to incumbent Democratic senators and challengers.
Peters said in a statement Monday evening that Menendez is unable to serve effectively. “As elected officials, the public trusts us to serve in their best interests and in the best interests of our country,” Peters said.
In court Tuesday, a judge ordered Hana’s release pending trial on $300,000 bail and $5 million bond.
Hana’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, said after the hearing that his client is innocent and has a long friendship with Nadine Menendez, which predates her marriage to the senator by years. “He has pleaded not guilty because he is not guilty,” Lustberg said.
Prosecutors say Hana gave the senator’s wife, Nadine Menendez, a “low-show or no-show job,” paid $23,000 on her mortgage, wrote $30,000 checks to her consulting firm, stole her envelopes of cash promised, sent her fitness equipment and some of the gold bars found in the couple’s home.
Hana also sought the senator’s help in fending off criticism from U.S. agriculture officials after Egyptian officials gave his company a lucrative monopoly on certifying that imported meat met religious standards, the indictment said.