U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) vowed to fight his three-count federal bribery indictment in his first public appearance since the charges were announced Friday, also explaining why he has large amounts of cash at home.
“The allegations leveled against me are just that: allegations,” Menendez said at the Hudson County Community College campus in Union City, the municipality where he previously served as the youngest school board trustee and later mayor.
“I recognize that 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 will still be New Jersey’s senior senator.”
The three-count indictment charges Menendez and his wife with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color and official right.
They are accused of having a “corrupt relationship” with New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes. Those three are charged with the first two counts.
Menendez is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, though he has said he will vacate that post, while Hana owns the Edgewater-based meat company IS EG Halal, which has the only contract with Egypt through the USDA that allows them to certify all imported halal meat.
He pushed back against the notion that he did anything improper with the county of Egypt.
“Throughout my 30 years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, I have always worked to hold accountable those countries, including Egypt, for humans rights abuses … I have remained on the side of civil rights in Egypt and everywhere in the world. My record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable.”
Overall, the indictment charges that the Menendezes accepted corrupt payments for their mortgage, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz C-Class C300, $486,471 in cash, another $79,760 from the safe deposit box, two one-kilogram gold bars, and 11 one-ounce gold bars.
He maintained that there was a simple, albeit outdated, explanation for large amounts of cash as well.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars, in cash, from my personal savings account – which I have kept for emergencies and because of my family’s history of facing confiscation in Cuba.”
“This may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on my income I have lawfully derived over those 30 years. I look forward to addressing other issues at trial.”
The explanation drew heavy criticism online, for example, fellow Democratic U.S. Senator John Fetterman, who represents neighboring Pennsylvania, tweeted “We have an extra flashlight for our home emergencies[.]”
Menendez did not explicitly state he was seeking re-election in June, but he has implied he would consider running without party support.
U.S. Rep. Any Kim (D-3) announced a primary challenge to Menendez, as did activist Larry Hamm, since he did not heed calls from top state leaders to resign.
Those include Gov. Phil Murphy (D), U.S. Reps. Donald Norcross (D-1), Josh Gottheimer (D-5), Frank Pallone (D-6), Bill Pascrell (D-9), Mikie Sherrill (D-11), New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chair LeRoy Jones, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19), and Senate President Nick Scutari (D-22).
For the time being, Fetterman is the only fellow senator to ask Menendez to step down, with the chairs of the Bergen, Middlesex, and Passaic County Democrats asking him to resign as well.
“The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system. Instead of waiting for all the facts to be presented, others have rushed to judgment because they see a political opportunity for themselves or those around them,” Menendez stated today.
He did not take any questions after his remarks, which were in English and Spanish, lasted about 20 minutes.
He also has a declared Republican challenger in Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner, who was quick to criticize him after the indictment and appears to be running a spirited campaign, though Republicans haven’t won a U.S. Senator seat since 1972.
Kyle Jasey, the son of Essex County Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, filed the paperwork to challenge Menendez in next summer’s primary back in July.
On Friday morning, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damien Williams said the investigation is “very much ongoing.”