By Deepti Hajela and Mike Catalini | Associated Press
UNION CITY, N.J. — Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey defiantly pushed back against federal corruption charges on Monday, saying nearly half a million dollars in cash authorities found in his home was from his personal savings, not from bribes, and was on hand for emergencies.
Rejecting rising calls for him to resign, he said he believed that he’d be cleared.
“I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be the New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez said at Hudson County Community College’s campus in Union City, where he grew up.
He did not respond to questions and did not address whether he will seek reelection next year.
Addressing allegations in the indictment unsealed Friday that authorities found cash stuffed in envelopes and clothing at his home, Menendez said that stemmed his parents fear of confiscation of funds from their time in Cuba.
“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,” he said.
He also addressed his relationship with Egypt, which plays a central role in the indictment against him, suggesting he’s been tough on the country over its detention of Americans and other “human rights abuses.”
“If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable,” he said.
Prosecutors say he met with Egyptian military and intelligence officials, passed along non-public information about employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and ghostwrote a letter on behalf of Egypt asking his Senate colleagues to release a hold on $300 million worth of aid. He did not directly address those allegations Monday.
The state’s Democratic leadership, including Gov. Phil Murphy, the state party chairmen and leaders of the Legislature, along with some of Menendez’s congressional colleagues, are calling on him to resign
In Washington, however, where his party holds a bare Senate majority, some of Menendez’s Democratic colleagues have stopped short of urging him to give up his seat, notably Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and Majority Whip Dick Durbin, of Illinois.
Menendez did, however, step down as required as the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Schumer said on Friday, when the indictment was unsealed.
If he seeks reelection, Menendez will face at least one challenger in a primary next year after Democratic Rep. Andy Kim announced over the weekend that he will run for the Senate because of the charges against the state’s senior senator.
Menendez’s reelection campaign could face significant hurdles besides the criminal indictment, the second one he has faced in eight years, in light of opposition from state party leaders.
If the Democratic Party abandons Menendez, he could lose a potent benefit of party support: the so-called party line, or preferred ballot placement in the primary, widely regarded as a significant booster to incumbents and those with establishment backing.
Menendez has denied any wrongdoing in the federal case against him, his wife and three of their business associates. In an emailed statement last week, he accused prosecutors of misrepresenting “the normal work of a congressional office” and said he will not allow his work in the Senate to be distracted by “baseless allegations.” A lawyer for his wife said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
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He and his wife, Nadine Menendez, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold and a luxury car from a trio of New Jersey businessmen for a variety of corrupt acts.
The indictment said Menendez used his clout to interfere in three criminal cases, pressured U.S. agriculture regulators to protect an associate’s business interests, and used his position as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to influence U.S. policy on Egypt.
Federal agents who searched his home in 2022 found more than $480,00 in cash stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe, and gold bars worth more than $100,000, prosecutors said. Another $70,000 was discovered inside his wife’s safety deposit box, they said.
Catalini reported from Trenton.