New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on Tuesday called for home-state senator Bob Menendez to resign, joining a chorus of senior lawmakers calling for him to go after an indictment accused him of accepting and taking payment in gold bars.
Booker, the state’s junior senator, joins New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy in calling for Menendez to go, a day after Menendez gave a defiant press conference where he said he stashed hundreds of thousands in cash in his home as a response to confiscatory policies of communist Cuba.
‘Sen. Menendez fiercely asserts his innocence and it is therefore understandable that he believes stepping down is patently unfair,’ Booker said in a statement. ‘But I believe this is a mistake. I believe stepping down is best for those Sen. Menendez has spent his life serving,’ he said.
‘Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost. Sen. Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is best for those Sen. Menendez has spent his life serving.’
‘I believe stepping down is best for those Sen. Menendez has spent his life serving,’ said Sen. Cory Booker
Booker’s statement comes as Democrats fear Mendenez’s trial could impact their own ability to maintain Senate control. It could also have impacts down the ballot in New Jersey’s off year elections.
His statement came on a hectic Tuesday as senators returned to town for the first votes for the first time since the bombshell news.
Others calling on Menendez to go include Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Jacki Rosen, Jon Tester, Sherod Brown, John Fetterman, Elizabeth Warren, Booker, Mark Kelly, Bob Casey, and Peter Welch.
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez says piles of cash found in his home during his bribery probe were withdrawn from his personal savings in an incredible press conference on Monday denying corruption allegations.
At a press conference, where he made his first public comments since Friday’s indictment, the New Jersey lawmaker pushed back against some of the specific charges and demonstrated he intends to fight back, calling the charges ‘salacious’ and accusing those who called for resignation of acting in their own political interests.
Menendez, 69, didn’t mention the more than $100,000 worth of gold bars or the Mercedes prosecutors say he received for doing favors for a New Jersey developer as he confirmed he will not resign.
‘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 the New Jersey’s senior senator.’
The Democratic senator, who beat back corruption charges in 2015, noted: ‘Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly I know that.’
His wife Nadine was not seen with him during Monday’s remarks but, standing behind the senator were about two dozen people he described as ‘everyday people and constituents who know me.’
Senator Bob Menendez proclaimed his innocence in a press conference in New Jersey
‘To those who have rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts framed by the prosecution to be a salacious as possible,’ he said.
‘Others have rushed to judgment because they see a political opportunity for themselves or those around them. All I humbly ask for in this moment, in my colleagues in Congress, the elected leaders and the advocates of New Jersey that I have worked with for years, as well as each person who calls New Jersey Home is to pause and allow for all of the facts to be presented.’
He did not take questions, including about the gold bars found in his home or the Mercedes-Benz, that prosecutors say he received as bribe payments.
He also did not address whether he will run for re-election next year. More than two dozen Democrats in New Jersey have called for him to resign and one top Democrat in the state has announced a Senate bid.
Menendez said he will return to Washington DC this week to perform his duties as senator.
‘For now, I am remained focused on continuing to do the important work that I do every day on behalf of the 9 million people who call New Jersey home and including everything we can this week to avoid a government shutdown and everything to avoid catastrophic natural disasters and ensuring that the people in Ukraine have everything to defeat Putin and I will return to Washington to do that,’ he said.
In Washington, where the Senate is closely divided, some of Menendez’s Democratic colleagues have stopped short of calling for his resignation, including Majority Leader Chuck Schume and the Number Two Democratic Leader Dick Durbin.
In a June 2022 raid on Menendez’s home, investigators found $486,461 in cash stuffed in envelopes and in the pockets of jackets with Menendez’ name on them. They also found two one-kilogram gold bars and eleven one-ounce gold bars worth $110,000.
Menendez defended the money, saying he often kept cash on hand because it’s a lesson he learned from his parents, who escaped Fidel Castro’s Cuba to live in the United States. He didn’t mention the gold bars.
‘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 emergency of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,’ he said.
‘Maybe it is old fashioned, but these were monies withdrawn from my personal savings account from the income that I have lawfully derived. I will defend those actions at court,’ he said.
The 27-page indictment, unsealed on Friday, claims that Bob and Nadine Menendez had an improper relationship with three New Jersey businessmen: Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes, who allegedly paid the couple in exchange for Menendez to use his influence in Washington D.C. to their benefit.
The couple face three criminal counts each: conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. The three businessmen face charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud
The indictment also charges the senator with providing ‘sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.’
Menendez defended his record on Egypt. Prosecutors say he met with Egyptian military and intelligence officials, passed along non-public information about employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and ghostwrote a letter on behalf of Egypt asking his Senate colleagues to release a hold on $300 million worth of aid.
‘Throughout my time in Congress, I have remained steadfast on the side of civil society and human rights defenders in Egypt and everywhere else in the world. If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable for the unjust detention of Americans and others and the human rights abuses,’ he said.
Cash was found in envelopes during a June 2022 raid of Menendez home; Menendez claims it was from his personal savings
Senator Robert Menendez leaves his press conference
Senator Menendez did not mention the gold bars found in his New Jersey home
Senator Menendez’s wife was not at the press conference but, standing behind the senator were about two dozen people he described as ‘everyday people and constituents who know me’
Menendez has hired the same lawyer as Hunter Biden to defend him against federal bribery charges, CNBC reported. Attorney Abbe Lowell is representing Hunter Biden in his defense against federal gun charges and will now take on the senator’s case.
Lowell also represented Menendez in 2015 when he faced corruption charges that were eventually dropped.
But support for the embattled Democrat is waning. More than two dozen Democrats in New Jersey have called on him to resign.
And, Rep. Andy Kim, who cleaned up the Capitol after the rioters left on Jan. 6, 2021, announced he’s running for Senate, setting up a tough primary challenge for Menendez.
‘This is not something I expected to do, but I believe New Jersey deserves better,’ Kim said in a statement. ‘We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our country´s integrity. I believe it´s time we restore faith in our democracy, and that´s why I am stepping up and running for Senate.’
It is the second round of bribery charges for Menendez. A 2015 case ended in mistrial after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges.
The first time Menendez was indicted, he had been accused of using his influence to help a Florida eye doctor who gave him gifts and campaign contributions.
Menendez was accused of pressuring government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in favor of Dr. Salomon Melgen and securing visas for the doctor’s girlfriends.
He said he was innocent. His lawyers said campaign contributions and gifts from Melgen — which included trips on his private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris — were tokens of their longtime friendship, not bribes.
Prosecutors dropped the charges after the mistrial.
But, in contrast to eight years ago, when many in the party stood by him, multiple Democrats – including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman – have now called on Menendez to resign.
‘The alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state,’ Murphy said. As governor, he would appoint a senator to replace Menendez should he resign.
Notably, New Jersey’s other Democratic Senator, Cory Booker, has been silent on Menendez.
Menendez himself has remained defiant – although he has stepped down from his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his wife Nadine Arslanian arrive for a state dinner in honor of French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House in December 2022; the couple has been charged on three criminal counts related to bribery and extortion
Rep. Andy Kim announced he will run for Senate in 2024, setting up a Democratic primary challenge with Menendez – above, Kim garnered national attention when he helped clean up the Capitol after the January 6 insurrection
Fred Daibes, Chairman and CEO of Daibes Enterprises, in his Edgewater office
In his press conference on Monday, Menendez did not mention his Latino background although he repeated his remarks in Spanish.
It was a change of pace from Friday, when he claimed he was being ‘falsely accused’ because he is a ‘Latin American’ who rose from a humble childhood to the United States Senate.
‘Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first generation Latin American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. senator,’ he said in a statement.
Republicans see an opening to win a Senate seat if Menendez stays on the ballot.
But former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has ruled out a run, sticking with his campaign to be the Republican presidential nominee.
‘I have no interest in being in the United States Senate,’ Christie told Meet the Press host Kristen Welker in a Sunday morning interview.
In the indictment, investigators outline a series of texts, payments and actions the couple allegedly took to help the three businessmen, actions from which they financially benefited.
The probe listed several ‘bribes’ paid to them. ‘Those bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value,’ the indictment said.
A June 2022 raid on their New Jersey home found ‘over $480,000 in cash – much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe,’ the indictment notes, adding Nadine had over $70,000 in a safe deposit box.
It also found two one-kilogram gold bars and eleven one-ounce gold bars.
The indictment alleges that Menendez tried to disrupt a federal criminal prosecution of Fred Daibes in exchange for the money and other items of value. Daibes is an old friend of Menendez, has fundraised for his Senate campaign, and allegedly has ties to the Genovese mob family.
The indictment charges Menendez ‘promised to and did use his influence and power’ to pressure President Joe Biden to nominate a U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey who Menendez ‘believed could be influenced by Menendez with respect to the federal criminal prosecution of Fred Daibes.’
Menendez recommended and Biden later nominated Phillip Sellinger as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, the top federal prosecutor in the state.
Daibes has been under investigation before. New Jersey authorities have tracked high-ranking mobsters meeting with Daibes repeatedly over the last decade, the Daily Beast reported.
Daibes provided the couple with gold bars and envelopes of cash, the indictment states.
‘Multiple gold bars provided by Daibes were found during the court-authorized June 2022 search; of the couple’s home, the indictment states. It also says the senator performed a web search for ‘how much is one kilo of gold worth’ and that the envelopes of cash had the fingerprints of Daibes and his driver.
The luxury Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible worth more than $60,000
Authorities found two one-kilogram gold bars and eleven one-ounce gold bars in Menendez’s home during a June 2022 search
$486,461 in U.S. currency was seized from the couple’s home, per the indictment
The investigation also focused on 40-year-old New Jersey businessman, Wael Hana, who has known Nadine since before she started dating Menendez.
Hana, who is originally from Egypt, operated the company IS EG Halal in New Jersey and it soon became the sole entity authorized to certify that any halal food product imported into Egypt from anywhere in the world had been prepared according to Islamic law.
According to the indictment, Menendez ‘improperly advised and pressured an official at the United States Department of Agriculture for the purpose of protecting a business monopoly granted to Hana by Egypt and used in part to fund the bribes being paid to Menendez through Nadine Menendez.’
The designation of IS EG Halal surprised U.S. agriculture officials. Previously, several other companies had been doing that certification, but they were dismissed by Egyptian agriculture officials in favor of IS EG Halal, which had no previous experience in the field.
The indictment charges Menendez with using the power of his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to influence the State Department regarding policy in Egypt and with sending Nadine ‘highly sensitive’ about Egypt that he got in Senate briefings that she, in turn, gave to Hana.
As a senator, Menendez could put a ‘hold’ on State Department funding to the country.
In a text to his wife, Menendez tells her: ‘I am going to sign off this sale to Egypt today. Egypt: 46,000 120MM Target Practice Rounds and 10,000 Rounds Tank Ammunition: $99 million.’
Nadine then forwarded it to an Egyptian official who replies with the thumbs up emoji.
Businessman Jose Uribe allegedly bought Menendez and Nadine the luxury vehicle, a Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible worth more than $60,000.
In exchange, Menendez ‘agreed and sought to interfere in a New Jersey state criminal prosecution of an associate of Uribe,’ the indictment states.
Uribe provided Nadine Menendez with $15,000 in cash for the down payment for the Mercedes and then paid the monthly payment for her.
After she had possession of the car, Uribe texted her: ‘are you happy?’ She responded, ‘I will never forget this.’
She also texted her husband, after the purchase was complete: ‘Congratulations mon amour de la vie, we are the proud owners of a 2019 Mercedes,’ with a heart emoji.