Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., walks through the Senate subway on his way to a vote in the Capitol on Thurssday, May 4, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Bill Clark | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Menendez on Friday vowed to remain in the Senate while he fights federal charges of bribery and extortion announced earlier in the day. The indictment was the second time the New Jersey Democrat had been prosecuted for alleged corruption as a sitting senator.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez holds one of the most powerful gavels in Congress. But any committee chair “who is charged with a felony shall immediately step aside” under Democratic caucus rules.
Menendez planned to relinquish his committee chairmanship while he was prosecuted, NBC News reported. But not his seat in Congress.
“I remain focused on continuing this important work and will not be distracted by baseless allegations,” Menendez said in a statement.
The senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were indicted on three criminal counts each Friday after a multi-year federal investigation.
The couple is accused of having “accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for Senator Menendez using his power and influence to protect and to enrich” three New Jersey business associates, according to U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York, who brought the charges.
“Those bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job [for Nadine], a luxury vehicle, and other things of value,” the federal indictment alleges.
Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a press conference after announcing that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was indicted on corruption charges charges at the SDNY office on September 22, 2023 in New York City.
Alexi J. Rosenfeld | Getty Images
In response to the charges, Bob Menendez was defiant and accused prosecutors of having, “misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office” and “attacked my wife for the longstanding friendships she had.”
This counterargument, namely that what prosecutors claim are bribes in exchange for favors were actually just personal friendships and the typical work of a U.S. senator, was the same one Bob Menendez made the last time he was charged with corruption in 2015. In that case, it worked.
Menendez was charged with 14 counts alongside co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist whom prosecutors accused of having bribed Bob Menendez with lavish gifts in exchange for using his Senate powers to advance Melgen’s business interests.
But the jury in the case was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, and the judge declared a mistrial in 2017.
On Friday, Bob Menendez said prosecutors were running the same failed play a second time.
“The facts are not as presented,” in the indictment, he said. “Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates.”
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.