Sen Bob Menendez explains cash found at home in bribery probe

Facing calls to resign from his Democratic colleagues in New Jersey, US Senator Robert Menendez defended his record and shot down allegations of wrongdoing in a press conference days after a sweeping federal indictment accused the chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee of engaging in a years-long bribery scheme.

A grand jury indictment unsealed in US District Court on 22 September includes photographs of thousands of dollars in cash in wrapped bills on top of jackets bearing the senator’s name. Investigators allegedly discovered more than $480,000 in cash and $100,000 at his home.

“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account,” Mr Menendez said in remarks on 25 September.

Mr Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, said he stored cash at his home for emergencies and “because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.”

“Now 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. I look forward to other issues at trial,” he added.

The indictment charges Mr Menendez and his wife along with three New Jersey businessmen and associates in an alleged bribery scheme trading political favours for cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz convertible and other gifts.

Mr Menendez and his wife Nadine Menendez are charged with three counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.

Fred Daibes, Wael Hana and Jose Uribe are charged with the first two of those counts.

The indictment outlines the senator’s role in several alleged criminal schemes, including sharing “sensitive US government information” among other steps to covertly benefit the Egyptian government, pushing US officials to secure an exclusive business deal with one of the co-defendants, and pressuring state and federal prosecutors to drop investigations.

“The allegations leveled against me are just that: allegations. For anyone who has known me throughout my 50 years of public service they know I have always fought for what is right,” he said in remarks from New Jersey on Monday.

“Everything I’ve accomplished I’ve worked for despite the naysayers and everyone who has underestimated me. 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,” he added.

In his remarks and in statements following the indictment, Mr Menendez has cast the allegations against him as a form of political persecution and framed calls for his resignation as anti-Latino.

Mr Menendez, per the rules of the Democratic conference, has agreed to step down from his role as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chaired from 2013 to 2015 and again since 2021.

New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy has called for the senator’s “immediate” resignation.

If he were to step down, the governor would appoint a successor to fill in the remainder of his term. New Jersey Democratic US Rep Andy Kim, who has joined calls for the senator’s resignation, announced his intentions to challenge Mr Menendez in a Democratic primary election next year.

The indictment comes six years after a nine-week trial on separate corruption charges facing Mr Menendez that ended in a hung jury, with the US Department of Justice dismissing the remaining charges against him in a case involving the alleged trade of political favours for luxury trips and campaign donations.

Mr Menendez would go on to easily defeat his Republican opponent in his re-election bid in November 2018.

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