During his first public appearance since federal prosecutors accused him of corruption, Sen. Bob Menendez hit back at Democrats calling for him to step down and vowed to fight the charges in federal court. (Courtesy of Sen. Menendez's office)
Sen. Bob Menendez appeared in Union City Monday to deny federal bribery charges that were unsealed in an indictment Friday and to reiterate that he does not intend to step down from the U.S. Senate, despite pressure from top Democratic leaders.
Menendez, a Democrat whose political career launched in this Hudson County city nearly 50 years ago, stressed that the charges in the indictment are “just that — allegations.”
“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 New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez said.
Monday was the first public appearance for Menendez since the indictment was unsealed and top Democrats began calling for his immediate resignation. He responded to those calls by saying the “court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system.”
Menendez previously faced federal corruption charges in 2015, charges that were dropped after a trial ended in a hung jury two years later. Menendez appeared to reference that trial on Monday.
“Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that,” he said.
Menendez, who has served in Congress for over 30 years and was until Friday chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Services Committee, is accused of illegally accepting cash, gold bars, and other gifts in exchange for his influence on various matters.
The charges were made to “be as salacious as possible,” Menendez said. Referring to the indictment’s revelation that investigators found about $500,000 in cash in his home, Menendez said the cash was from his own private savings and said he kept it in his home because of his family’s history of facing confiscation in Cuba.
“Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these monies were drawn from my personal savings accounts based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years,” he said. “I look forward to addressing other issues in trial.”
Prosecutors say Menendez’s wife, Nadine, who was indicted alongside her husband, introduced Egyptian officials to Menendez to establish a “corrupt agreement.” They allege Menendez accepted bribes in exchange for taking actions to benefit the Egyptian government and that he passed along nonpublic information to a go-between and co-defendant who then provided that information to Egyptian officials.
Menendez defended his connections to Egyptian officials, saying people “attempting to malign my actions as it relates to Egypt simply don’t know the facts.” He called his record relating to human rights “clear and consistent” and said he has “always worked” to keep countries accountable for human rights abuses.
The senator spent much of his 10-minute statement Monday touting his work in the community, ranging from ensuring New Jersey received help after Hurricane Sandy to standing up for small businesses during the pandemic. He is up for reelection next year, and has already gained a Democratic challenger, Rep. Andy Kim (D-03).
Among the attendees to Menendez’s event was Manny Contreras of Passaic, who said he plans to support the senator as he always has. Contreras, who was first introduced to Menendez in college, said he’s voted for him in every Senate race.
“It’s sad news because what the senator has done for the Latino community has been so good. Much more good than bad,” he said in an interview in Spanish.
Contreras echoed Menendez that the prosecutor’s claims are merely allegations and said he’s hopeful Menendez will survive the legal fight. But when asked if he would vote for Menendez should he run for reelection, he took a moment before responding.
“How it stands today, yes, I would continue giving him my support,” he said. “But we must wait to see what happens with the charges.”
Menendez is set to appear in court in New York Wednesday morning alongside his wife.
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