U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and his spouse have been hit with charges of accepting bribes from three New Jersey businessmen, potentially complicating the Democrats’ efforts to maintain their narrow Senate majority in the upcoming elections.
Menendez has temporarily stepped down from his role as the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee until the case is resolved, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer emphasized Menendez’s right to due process in a statement.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan has alleged that Menendez, aged 69, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gold bars in exchange for leveraging his power and influence as New Jersey’s senior senator to benefit Egypt’s government and obstruct investigations into the businessmen.
Menendez has been a significant ally to President Joe Biden in the administration’s efforts to regain U.S. influence globally, garner support for congressional aid to Ukraine, and counter the rise of China.
Calls for Menendez’s resignation have come from prominent Democratic figures, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, as well as other Democratic state officials and members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Murphy, who would appoint a temporary replacement if Menendez resigns, stated, “The alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state.”
However, Menendez has firmly stated that he has no intention of resigning. He asserted, “It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere.”
Prosecutors are aiming to have Menendez forfeit assets, including his New Jersey residence, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz convertible, and approximately $566,000 in cash, gold bars, and funds from a bank account. The indictment includes images of gold bars seized from Menendez’s home and envelopes filled with cash discovered in jackets bearing his name in his closet. Prosecutors claim to have found over $480,000 in cash in his residence.
Damian Williams, the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan, pointed out that Menendez’s website clearly states that as a senator, he cannot exert influence to favor individuals or intervene in private business matters. Williams stated, “Behind the scenes, Senator Menendez was doing those things for certain people – the people that were bribing him and his wife.” He confirmed that the investigation is ongoing.
Menendez countered the allegations, asserting that prosecutors had misrepresented routine legislative work. He stated, “The excesses of these prosecutors are apparent. The facts are not as presented.”
Nadine Menendez, aged 56, who has been married to the senator since 2020, has denied any wrongdoing. Her lawyer stated that she would vigorously defend against the allegations in court.
This investigation marks the third time that Menendez has been scrutinized by federal prosecutors, though he has never been convicted. In January 2018, federal prosecutors in New Jersey dropped a case in which Menendez was charged with accepting private flights, campaign contributions, and other bribes in exchange for official favors. A trial in 2017 on these charges ended in a jury deadlock. He was also investigated in 2006.
Senate Democratic rules stipulate that any member charged with a felony must relinquish their leadership position, with the option to resume it if found not guilty. Senator Ben Cardin is expected to step in as foreign relations chairman, as he did after Menendez was indicted in 2015. Menendez, currently in his third term, has expressed his intention to seek re-election next year.
While an investigation could potentially complicate the Democrats’ efforts to expand their narrow 51-49 seat majority in the 100-member Senate, it’s worth noting that New Jersey has not elected a Republican senator since 1972.
Menendez, of Cuban American heritage, has been a staunch opponent among Biden’s fellow Democrats regarding any softening of policies towards Cuba and Venezuela. He has also been one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, particularly opposing major weapons deals for the kingdom.
Criminal charges against members of the 100-seat Senate are relatively uncommon. Former Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska was found guilty of corruption in 2008, but the conviction was later overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested for lewd conduct in a bathroom in 2007 and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.
In addition to Menendez, his wife, Bob and Nadine Menendez, the businessmen involved in this case – Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes – are scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court on September 27 to face charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
Both Bob and Nadine Menendez also face one count each of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. While they could potentially face up to 45 years in prison if convicted, any sentence would ultimately be determined by a judge and is likely to be much shorter.
According to the indictment, Hana, originally from Egypt, arranged meetings in 2018 between the senator and Egyptian officials, during which officials pressured Menendez to approve military aid that the U.S. had withheld due to concerns about Egypt’s human rights record. In return, Hana, aged 40, placed Nadine Menendez on the payroll of a company he controlled, which had exclusive rights to certify halal meat shipments from the U.S. to Egypt.
Later, the senator sought to influence the U.S. Department of Agriculture to refrain from taking any action that would interfere with the company’s monopoly status, according to the indictment.
“We are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit,” a spokesperson for Hana stated in response.
The Egyptian embassy in Washington has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Prosecutors allege that Uribe, who worked in the trucking and insurance industries, provided Nadine Menendez with $15,000 in cash to assist in purchasing a Mercedes-Benz convertible. This occurred after her husband had asked an official at the New Jersey attorney general’s office to resolve fraud investigations into Uribe’s associates favorably.
Daibes, a real estate developer, reportedly gave Menendez gold bars and cash after the senator attempted to influence a federal criminal case in New Jersey involving Daibes, who had allegedly obtained loans under false pretenses. Daibes pleaded guilty and received a probationary sentence.
Attorneys for Uribe and Daibes have not immediately responded to requests for comment.