Sen. Bob Menendez defiantly rejected calls from fellow New Jersey Democrats to resign Friday after he and his wife were indicted, saying that believing in justice means someone accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I’ve had for the past five decades,” Menendez said in a statement issued by his office. “This is the same record of success these very same leaders have lauded all along. 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.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the state’s top Democrat who has the power to appoint a replacement, had urged Menendez to quit immediately, saying that the indictment unsealed against him and his wife earlier in the day included “deeply disturbing” charges.
The indictment, which included photos of gold bars and thousands of dollars found in their home, alleges Menendez and his wife accepted bribes to get Menendez to use his power and influence as a senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to try to sway criminal cases against businessmen and benefit the government of Egypt.
Murphy said the charges “implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
“Under our legal system, Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges, and we must respect the process,” Murphy said in a statement. “However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
Murphy followed Rep. Andy Kim, who was the first New Jersey Democratic official to call for Menendez to step down. Fellow Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill also said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that “it’s in the best interest of our state that Senator Menendez resign.” Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. and Bill Pascrell Jr. joined the call as well.
The calls were a marked difference from 2015, when Menendez was indicted on corruption charges and the state’s Democratic party stood firmly behind him as he fought the charges. A jury could not reach a verdict in 2017 and a judge acquitted the senator in 2018 on the most serious charges. The Justice Department later dropped the rest of the charges.
But it also highlights the differences in this case and the political moment. At that time, Republican Chris Christie held the governorship in New Jersey and would have been able to replace Menendez with a Republican. The state is also set to hold legislative elections in November, and Democrats face an uphill battle next year to defend their Senate majority in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York announced earlier Friday that Menendez had temporarily stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Schumer’s statement praised Menendez as a “dedicated public servant” and said he “has a right to due process and a fair trial.”
If Menendez were to resign, Murphy would be able to pick a replacement to complete the term. But Menendez was defiant in his own statement after a Justice Department news conference Friday morning.
“They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented,” he said. “Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor’s version.”
Menendez’s seat is up next year, and Murphy could pick a Democrat who would have a clear advantage in the race, or a caretaker replacement who would let the party pick its nominee in the June primary.
New Jersey’s system gives county party organizations the power to put candidates they back in preferred positions on the primary ballot, so if Menendez were to stay in the race, he would need to lock up ballot lines in powerful Democratic counties to have any chance against an established challenger.
Whoever runs will need to raise money quickly, however, to compete in one of the most expensive media markets in the country. Menendez had $7.8 million in his campaign account on June 30. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who had been said to be considering a run for governor in 2025, had $15.1 million. Sherrill, another potential gubernatorial contender, had $1.2 million, Kim had $882,000 and Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., had $1 million.
A Republican has not won a Senate race in New Jersey since 1972 and the race had been rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections. After the indictment that rating was changed to Likely Democratic.
Chris Marquette and Herb Jackson contributed to this report.