A defiant Sen. Bob Menendez rejected the calls to step down after being indicted for a second time while serving in office, stating “prosecutors get it wrong sometimes…I know this from previous experience.”
“The allegations leveled that me are just that…allegations,” said Menendez on Sept. 25 at Hudson County Community College speaking for the first time since the charges were made public last week. “People have called for my resignation because I have lost the trust of New Jerseyans. They couldn’t be more wrong.”
“I recognize that 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,” said the North Jersey Democrat.
The Hudson County native statement was a mix of addressing the charges he feels he will be exonerated on in a limited fashion as well as his record of delivering for New Jersey. Notably, he did not take questions, address his relationship with the three businessmen accused of bribing him or how he obtained gold bars before rushing off from the podium after delivering his remarks.
The public address comes days after federal prosecutors from New York’s Southern District indicted Menendez on Sept. 22 with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right. His wife, Nadine Menendez, was charged with federal crimes as well.
As he alluded to during his statement, this is the second time Menendez faces a trial centered around alleged illegal behavior while a member of the U.S. Senate. In 2015, he was indicted on corruption charges over his ties to a wealthy Florida ophthalmologist, Dr. Salomon Melgen.
The trial in that case ended in a mistrial for Menendez, who was ultimately acquitted in 2018. Both times he has been indicted, a Democrat has been President—Barack Obama in 2015 and Joe Biden this year. Melgen was convicted, but would be pardoned by President Donald Trump.
This time around, it is alleged that Menendez and his wife engaged in a corrupt relationship with North Jersey businessmen Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes, including cash, gold, a Mercedes-Benz and other things of value. Federal authorities said in return, Menendez stepped in to protect and enrich those businessmen.
Addressing Egypt, Cash
The most specific arguments made by Menendez was his record on Egypt, asserting he held Egypt accountable for human rights abuses during the time he is alleged to have received payments from Hana and Daibes.
And Menendez claimed the nearly $500,000 in cash found stuffed in jackets in his closet was found in his house was withdrawn over the years based on his family’s history.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash…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.”
Menendez, who delivered his statement in both English and Spanish, called out other Democrats for “political expediency” for calling him to not run in 2024 or step down from office now.
“The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system,” Menendez said. “Instead of waiting for all the facts to be presented, others have rushed to judgment because they see a political opportunity for themselves or those around them.”
Calls to Step Aside Grown
Those political headwinds have grown over the weekend from his fellow Democrats in the Garden State. Six members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation have thus far called for the resignation: Reps. Josh Gottheimer, Mikie Sherrill, Bill Pascrell, Frank Pallone, Donald Norcross and Andy Kim. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman issued a statement saying the charges were concerning but stopped short of saying he should resign.
Only one New Jersey congressman has explicitly released a statement supporting Menendez: Rep. Rob Menendez. The freshman Congressman released a statement that he has “unwavering confidence” in his father.
On the state and local level, Gov. Phil Murphy was the first Democrat who called for Menendez to resign his seat in the U.S. Senate.
Murphy, State Leaders Reaction
“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. However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state,” Murphy said. “Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
Other key leaders who have called for the Senator to step down include Democratic State Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr., Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano, Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe. Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie and Monmouth County Democratic Chairman David Brown.
In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have stood behind Menendez. But Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) called for him to step down and other Democratic Senators were highly critical of Menendez on the Sunday morning shows but fell short of calling on him for him to vacate his seat in the Senate.
“He’s got to figure out whether he can adequately serve the people of New Jersey,” said Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a New Jersey native.
Sen. Cory Booker has not made a statement since the indictment was unsealed.
But Garden State politicians are not waiting for Menendez to make a decision. At the top of the list is Rep. Kim, who announced his primary candidacy over the weekend.
“After calls to resign, Senator Menendez said, ‘I am not going anywhere.’ As a result, I feel compelled to run against him,” Kim said. “This is not something I expected to do, but I believe New Jersey deserves better. We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our country’s integrity. I believe it’s time we restore faith in our democracy, and that’s why I am stepping up and running for Senate.”
Sherrill, Norcross, and Gottheimer are now considered potential candidates to run for the Senate in 2024, whether or not Menendez runs for re-election and could be in contention for an appointment to the seat if the senator resigns before his term is over.
In the background is the governor’s race in 2025. Gottheimer and Sherrill have been active across the state this year, both widely believed to be eyeing being the party’s nominee. But that calculus may change with an open seat conceivably available in the U.S. Senate.