Anti-Russian sanctions architect refuses to quit US Congress
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez has claimed innocence and refused to step down amid a growing chorus of calls to resign from opponents and fellow party members. He said that gold and cash uncovered during a search of his house were his personal savings for a rainy day.
“What’s wrong with you guys… I’m innocent,” Menendez said in a brief reply to an NBC News journalist on Tuesday.
On Monday, in his first public remarks since he was charged in a federal case for his alleged corrupt relationship with three businessmen, Menendez said he believes that “when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator.”
According to the indictment, which was unsealed in the Manhattan federal court on Friday, the lawmaker and his wife Nadine received “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using Menendez’s power and influence as Senator” to serve the interests of a foreign state actor (Egypt) from at least 2018 to 2022.
A search of Menendez’s home yielded around $100,000-worth of gold bars, as well as nearly $500,000 in hidden cash. However, the lawmaker claimed that this “may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account, based on the income that I had lawfully derived.”
The senator from New Jersey has been serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since early 2021, and has been an active proponent of sanctions on Russia prepared by the US even before the start of the Ukraine conflict.
Menendez has served since 2006 and the new indictment is his second corruption scandal while in office. He is up for re-election in 2024, which may complicate his party’s efforts to maintain its narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.
The chairman of the Democrats’ campaign arm, Senator Gary Peters, joined the growing chorus of calls from current and former officials for Menendez’s resignation, saying on Tuesday that while Menendez “deserves to have a fair legal process, given the serious nature of these charges and how they have undermined the public’s faith, he is no longer able to serve effectively in the US Senate.”