Three days after federal prosecutors alleged that he and his wife accepted money, gold bars, and a luxury convertible in exchange for political favors, a defiant Sen. Bob Menendez declared that he would be exonerated and rejected calls from a growing number of fellow Democrats that he resign.
“To those who have rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts framed by the prosecution as salacious as possible,” the New Jersey Democrat said at a news conference. “Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that.”
The indictment, unsealed on Friday, accused Menendez of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his political influence in support of several businessmen and the Egyptian government. It quickly drew attention for its eye-popping details, including images of cash-stuffed envelopes in the pockets of jackets with Menendez’s on them. Investigators say they discovered at least $100,000 in gold bars in his home and that his internet history showed he had searched the value of a “kilo of gold” on Google.
The list of Democrats who have called on Menendez to step down since Friday include Gov. Phil Murphy, Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Bill Pascrell, Frank Pallone, Donald Norcross, and Josh Gottheimer, as well as Rep. Andy Kim, who has already announced he will challenge Menendez. According to the New Jersey Globe, several of the other members and the state’s first lady, Tammy Murphy, are considered possible successors as well.
But as the calls for Menendez to leave the Senate seat he’s held for 17 years grow louder, those who have yet to do so are becoming more notable. They include his fellow New Jersey Democrat, Senator Cory Booker, as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin.
“Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey,” Schumer wrote in a statement Friday. “He has a right to due process and a fair trial.” Schumer added that Menendez had “rightly” opted to step down from his powerful position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
On Saturday, Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania became the first Democratic senator to call for Menendez’s resignation. “He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence under our system, but he is not entitled to continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations,” Fetterman said in a statement.
The next day, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York echoed that sentiment. “The situation is quite unfortunate, but I do believe that it is in the best interest for Senator Menendez to resign in this moment," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.”
Other Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Adam Schiff of California, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, and former Senator Doug Jones of Alabama have called for Menendez’s resignation as well.
On Monday, Menendez suggested that the push for him to step down wasn’t really about the charges against him.
“Some of the people calling for my resignation for political reasons say I have lost the trust of the people of New Jersey,” Menendez said. “They couldn’t be more wrong.”
Nonetheless, the group of supporters that stood behind Menendez on Monday did not include any prominent Democrats. After defending his record and integrity in both English and Spanish, Menendez left the room without taking questions.
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