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'I am not going anywhere': New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez rejects calls to resign

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks as Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., listens during a news conference on March 15 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Mariam Zuhaib
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AP
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks as Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., listens during a news conference on March 15 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Updated September 24, 2023 at 6:33 PM ET

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is making clear that he will not step down despite mounting pressure from both Washington and his home state that he resign.

Some House Democrats and New Jersey Democratic Party leaders, including the governor, have called for the senator's resignation after he was indicted in Friday on corruption charges in New York City.

But Menendez said Friday night he had no intention of leaving his post, adding that he plans to continue serving his state amid the charges.

"Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty," Menendez said in a statement. "I am not going anywhere."

In response to the charges, Menendez said in an earlier statement that the indictment was full of false accusations and part of an active political smear campaign of "anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists."

Menendez will step down from his post on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday. "Senator Menendez has rightly decided to step down temporarily from his position as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter has been resolved," he said.

The charges followed a federal investigation that claimed Menendez allegedly accepted luxury goods and large sums of money in bribes in exchange for committing corrupt acts, including providing sensitive information to the government of Egypt.

The 39-page indictment was unsealed in Manhattan federal court. Menendez, 69, and his wife, Nadine, 56, are named in the indictment and charged with three counts. Fred Daibes, a real estate developer, Wael Hana and Joseph Uribe were also named and are facing two charges each.

All five are expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday for their first hearing. More charges may be brought as Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the investigation is ongoing. The development comes about six years after Menendez was tried on unrelated claims of corruption — a trial that ended with a hung jury.

The indictment accuses Menendez and his wife of engaging in "a corrupt relationship with three New Jersey associates and businessmen" — Hana, Uribe and Daibes — and accepting "hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using" the senator's power and influence over a years-long relationship.

The Menendez couple received bribes that included cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other things of value, the indictment claims. In a search of the pair's home, prosecutors said they uncovered several high-value gold bars and more than $480,000 in cash — much of it stuffed into envelopes hidden inside jackets bearing Menendez's name.

The senator said Friday that prosecutors "misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office."

He continued, "On top of that, not content with making false claims against me, they have attacked my wife for the longstanding friendships she had before she and I even met."

"Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction. Even worse, they see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals."

Menendez is sharply criticized by Democrats and compared to Rep. George Santos

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged Friday that Menendez has not been tried or found guilty, but called the charges too egregious to ignore.

"The alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation," Murphy, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Other New Jersey officials, including the state Democratic Party chair, LeRoy Jones Jr., urged Menendez to resign. Jones described it as "the best course of action" to ensure the state stays focused on the upcoming legislative session.

New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat, said on Saturday that he would challenge Menendez for his Senate seat in 2024.

The pressure is also growing in Washington. On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Menendez should resign to "maintain the integrity of the seat."

"The details in this indictment are extremely serious," Ocasio-Cortez told Face The Nation.

Rep. Jeff Jackson, D-N.C., compared Menendez to Republican Rep. George Santos, who was chargedwith fraud, money-laundering and theft in May.

"I encourage my colleagues to handle this matter consistently with how we have addressed Rep. Santos," Jackson wroteon X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Rep. Dean Phillips also said that Menendez should step down. "Each of us entrusted with securing Americans' faith in government must raise the ethical bar for the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. Enough of this," the Minnesota Democrat said.

On Saturday, Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman joined in, saying Menendez is "entitled to the presumption of innocence, but he cannot continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations."

But among those who have held back criticism against Menendez is Schumer, D-N.Y., who said, "Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey. He has a right to due process and a fair trial."

George Santos, meanwhile, said on Sunday that Menendez should not resign because he was "innocent until proven guilty," he told MSNBC.

Prosecutors say sensitive info was given to Egypt

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and his wife Nadine Arslanian, pose for a photo on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 20, 2022. U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife have been indicted on charges of bribery.
Susan Walsh / AP
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AP
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and his wife Nadine Arslanian pose for a photo on Capitol Hill on Dec. 20, 2022. The couple has been indicted on charges of bribery.

From 2018 to 2022, Menendez allegedly used his position, power and influence to, among other things, hand over sensitive information that benefited the government of Egypt as well as Hana, an Egyptian-American businessman with close ties to Egyptian government officials, and others.

That relationship was started thanks to Nadine Menendez, the indictment indicates.

Prosecutors say that Nadine Menendez began dating the senator in February 2018. They got engaged in October 2019, and were married the next year.

Shortly after the two began their courtship, the senator's wife, who then went by the name Nadine Arslanian, introduced Menendez to her longtime friend, Hana. Through several meetings and dinners that she arranged but that were paid for by Hana or his associates, Egyptian officials would allegedly raise requests for foreign military sales and financing.

In exchange for Menendez's promise to use his position as senator to push through the sales and aid to Egypt, Hana promised to put the lawmaker's partner on his company's payroll in a job she barely, if at all, had to show up for.

Months into their relationship, Menendez allegedly sought non-public information from the State Department regarding the number and nationality of people working at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt.

Prosecutors note that this information is not classified, but that it's deemed highly sensitive "because it could pose significant operational security concerns if disclosed to a foreign government or if made public."

Once he received this information, Menendez then sent the details to his girlfriend, who sent it to Hana and who forwarded it to an Egyptian government official. Later that month, at a Hana-hosted dinner at a high-end restaurant, Menendez allegedly also told Hana non-public information about the U.S.'s provision of military aid to Egypt.

This image provided by the U.S. Attorney's office on Sept. 22, 2023, shows two of the gold bars found during a search by federal agents of Sen. Bob Menendez's home and safe deposit box.
/ U.S. Attorney's Office via AP
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U.S. Attorney's Office via AP
This image provided by the U.S. Attorney's office on Sept. 22, 2023, shows two of the gold bars found during a search by federal agents of Sen. Bob Menendez's home and safe deposit box.

This was, again, sent along to an unnamed Egyptian official with the message, "The ban on small arms and ammunition to Egypt has been lifted. That means sales can begin. That will include sniper rifles among other articles."

Prosecutors allege that later in May 2018, Nadine Menendez shared with the senator a request from an unidentified Egyptian official looking for help in editing and drafting a letter lobbying U.S. senators to support U.S. aid to Egypt.

She told Menendez she wanted him to prepare the letter because Hana and an official for the Egyptian government (whom she referred to as the "General" in communications ) helped her get "clearance for a project," according to the indictment.

It then says that Menendez then did as he was asked: editing and ghost-writing this letter requesting lawmakers release $300 million in aid money for Egypt.

This letter was allegedly sent on to Egyptian officials. Both Menendez and his wife later deleted the email including the request, prosecutors allege.

The pair took a trip to Egypt in October 2021 — a visit arranged after communicating directly with an unnamed Egyptian official for this purpose, prosecutors said. After this particular trip, Menendez allegedly performed a web search for "how much is one kilo of gold worth" after receiving multiple gold bars from Daibes.

Federal prosecutors also allege that Menendez "improperly advised and pressured an official at the United States Department of Agriculture for the purpose of protecting a business monopoly granted to Hana by Egypt and used in part to fund the bribes being paid" to the senator and his wife.

Hana ran his New Jersey-based company called IS EG Halal Certified Inc. that was run by financial support and backing from Daibes, prosecutors said. Egypt granted this company a monopoly on the certification of halal U.S. food exports to Egypt.

This photo, which was included in an indictment of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), shows a jacket bearing Menendez's name, along with cash from envelops found inside the jacket during a search by federal agents of the senator's home in Harrison, N.J., in 2022.
/ U.S. Attorney's Office via AP
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U.S. Attorney's Office via AP
This photo, which was included in an indictment of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., shows a jacket bearing Menendez's name, along with cash from envelops found inside the jacket during a search by federal agents of the senator's home in Harrison, N.J., in 2022.

The senator allegedly tried to disrupt criminal cases

Menendez also allegedly stepped in to disrupt criminal investigations and prosecutions targeting Daibes as well as Uribe and his associates.

The senator allegedly involved himself in a New Jersey prosecution of an Uribe associate and a separate federal criminal investigation into Daibes.

"Menendez recommended that the president nominate a U.S. Attorney who Menendez believed he could influence with respect to Daibes and sought to disrupt a federal criminal prosecution undertaken by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey of Daibes," the Justice Department said in its announcement.

For this effort, prosecutors say, the Menendez's received a Mercedes-Benz convertible worth more than $60,000 provided by Hana and Uribe; an additional $15,000 in cash was provided by Uribe for the car's down payment in April 2019.

Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator to be indicted twice on two unrelated criminal cases, according to data from the U.S. Senate Historical Office.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.