US Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, facing bribery charges alongside his wife, asserted his innocence and declared his intent to remain in Congress, a decision that contradicts calls for his resignation from New Jersey officials, including the state’s Democratic governor.
This move by Menendez could potentially complicate his party’s efforts to maintain its narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, although New Jersey has not elected a Republican Senator since 1972.
While temporarily stepping down from his role as chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Democratic rules mandate that any member charged with a felony must relinquish their leadership position, with the possibility of resuming it if they are later found not guilty.
Menendez, 69, in his first public statement since the charges were filed, firmly denied any wrongdoing and expressed confidence that he would not only be cleared but also continue serving as New Jersey’s senior senator.
US prosecutors alleged that Menendez accepted bribes, including gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in exchange for using his influence to assist the Egyptian government and impede law enforcement investigations concerning three businessmen.
As part of the prosecution’s case, they seek the forfeiture of Menendez’s assets, which include his home, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz convertible, and $566,000 in cash, gold bars, and bank account funds. Menendez argued that the cash found in his home was withdrawn from his accounts and kept for emergencies.
Menendez defended his track record in holding countries, such as Egypt, accountable for human rights abuses. He highlighted his consistent stance throughout his career and did not respond to reporters’ questions.
This investigation marks the third time that Menendez has been scrutinised by federal prosecutors, although he has never been convicted. Menendez, his wife, and the implicated businessmen are scheduled to appear in Manhattan federal court soon.
The charges they face carry a potential sentence of up to 45 years in prison, but judges in such cases often impose sentences below the maximum penalty.
Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been a prominent figure in foreign policy discussions, occasionally at odds with his own party. He has criticised the Obama administration’s moves to ease relations with Cuba and the US-Iran nuclear deal.
Additionally, Menendez has been involved in various unsuccessful attempts to reform the US immigration system.