Published On: Mon, Sep 25th, 2023

Two more Democratic senators call on Bob Menendez to resign after bribery charges

Two Democratic senators on Monday called for Sen. Bob Menendez to resign, joining a growing chorus of lawmakers urging the New Jersey Democrat to step down amid federal corruption charges.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio — chairman of the Banking panel where Menendez chairs a subcommittee — and Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont called on their colleague to leave Congress. Over the weekend, Sen. John Fetterman of neighboring Pennsylvania became the first Senate Democrat to say Menendez should resign.

On Monday night, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also said Menendez should step aside.

“It’d probably be a good idea if he did resign,” the former House speaker said on MSNBC’s “Inside with Jen Psaki,” calling the charges against Menendez “formidable.”

The new calls for Menendez’s resignation followed his first public remarks after an indictment against him and his wife, Nadine, was unsealed Friday.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference Monday in Union City, N.J., where he once served as mayor, Menendez said, “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, who indicated he would not resign, also offered an explanation for the $480,000 in cash prosecutors said was found in his New Jersey home, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe.”

Menendez maintained the money was his and had been earned legitimately.

“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” he said. “These were moneys drawn from my personal savings account based on the income I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.”

The indictment said some of the envelopes “contained the fingerprints and/or DNA” of one of the people charged with bribing Menendez or that person’s driver. Menendez did not address that claim in his remarks and did not take questions from reporters, but said he should be presumed innocent.

“The allegations against me are just that — allegations,” he said.

He asked his congressional colleagues “to pause and allow for all the facts to be presented.”

“The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system. We cannot set aside the presumption of innocence for political expediency when the harm is irrevocable,” Menendez said.

“Prosecutors get it wrong sometimes,” he said.

It is unclear which family members Menendez was referring to in his comments about the cash or whether their property had been confiscated. While the Cuban government began confiscating some property in 1959 after the revolution, Menendez’s parents came to the United States years earlier, and he was born here in 1954.

His office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on his remarks.

Menendez’s public remarks did not sway Brown and Welch against calling for him to step down.

“Senator Menendez is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But the people of New Jersey and the United States Senate are entitled to an effective Senator,” Welch wrote Monday night on X, formerly known as Twitter, adding that the allegations “wholly compromised” his capacity to serve effectively.

“I encourage Senator Menendez to resign,” he added.

A few hours earlier, Brown said in a statement that “Menendez has broken the public trust and should resign from the U.S. Senate.”

Fetterman also appeared unmoved by Menendez’s defense, particularly his “emergencies” explanation for the large sum of cash in his house. Referring to his comments in a posting on X, Fetterman wrote, “We have an extra flashlight for our home emergencies.”

Fetterman’s team also confirmed a report in the The Messenger that they are returning $5,000 in donations that Menendez gave to his 2022 campaign. “We are in the process of returning the money,” Fetterman spokesman Joe Calvello told NBC News, “in envelopes stuffed with $100 bills.”

There have been numerous calls for Menendez to resign from House Democrats and Democratic officials in New Jersey, including Gov. Phil Murphy.

Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., announced Saturday he’d challenge Menendez for his seat. “Not something I expected to do, but NJ deserves better,” Kim wrote on X.

Menendez and his wife were indicted Friday on charges that include conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion. The indictment alleges they received bribes included “cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other items of value.”

Federal investigators who executed a search warrant at their home found the more than $480,000 in cash and other allegedly ill-gotten gains that they claim were used to bribe Menendez, including a Mercedes-Benz, exercise equipment, home furnishings and “over one hundred thousand dollars’ worth of gold bars,” the indictment said.

Senators, aside from top leaders, make $174,000 a year.

Menendez has denied any wrongdoing and suggested in a statement Friday night that he’s being targeted because of his heritage.

“It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere,” he said.

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