(Bloomberg) -- Democratic New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez vowed to fight corruption charges and keep his US Senate seat, leaving open the question of his political future amid mounting calls on him to resign.
“I firmly believe when all the facts are presented I will not only be exonerated, I will still be New Jersey’s senior senator,” the senator told reporters. “Prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Unfortunately, I know that.”
Menendez’s defiance comes as the third-term senator faces increasing pressure from within his own party to resign his seat after his indictment was unsealed Friday.
The Justice Department alleges Menendez and his wife, Nadine, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three businessmen, including $550,000 in cash, gold bullion and a Mercedes Benz. In June 2022, US agents raided a safe deposit box and the Menendez home, finding cash stuffed in envelopes, closets and a safe.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, US Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and New Jersey Representatives Bill Pascrell, Mikie Sherrill and Josh Gottheimer are among Democrats who have called on Menendez to resign.
Before the federal investigation into Menendez came to light, he was seen as on a glide path to reelection in a heavily Democratic state, but the charges complicate his party’s fight to maintain control of the narrowly divided Senate.
Authorities also allege that Menendez helped the government of Egypt and the businessmen in their legal disputes with US and New Jersey governments. The senator is accused of giving sensitive information to Egypt about people working at the US embassy in Cairo. Prosecutors say he also pushed the financing and sale of military equipment to Egypt, and pressured US agriculture officials to support a monopoly that one of the businessmen, Wael Hana, had on halal meat exports to Egypt.
Menendez addressed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash seized by authorities, saying he regularly withdrew cash from his personal accounts during his Senate and House tenure for “emergencies.” He cited his family’s history in Cuba of fearing their money would be confiscated by the government as the reason he liked to keep cash.
“This may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years,” Menendez said.
Menendez didn’t say anything about the gold bars and Mercedes Benz as he read statements in English and Spanish. The indictment alleges that some of the cash envelopes contained fingerprints or DNA from one of the businessmen or his driver.
The senator left the packed news conference without taking questions.
Last week’s indictment isn’t the first time Menendez has faced allegations of corruption. He was indicted in 2015 and went to trial two years later on charges that he took bribes in the form of private jet travel, a Paris vacation and campaign contributions in exchange for pushing a Florida doctor’s business interests at the highest levels of the US government. A judge declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked on the charges. The Justice Department then dropped the case.
If the senator decides to run for reelection, he would likely face a bruising primary. Representative Andy Kim, a fellow New Jersey Democrat, said he’ll challenge Menendez, saying in a Saturday statement that New Jersey “deserves better.” Other possible candidates include Sherrill and Gottheimer.
Shortly after he was indicted, Menendez temporarily stepped aside as Foreign Relations Committee Chairman. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that decision and called Menendez a “dedicated public servant” and that he “has a right to due process and a fair trial.
--With assistance from Patricia Hurtado.
(Updates, adds details throughout)
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