Sen. Bob Menendez took to the Senate floor Tuesday to defend himself against the latest charges he faces, maintaining that he is innocent and warning colleagues that they could be next if prosecutors can turn typical congressional actions into criminal acts.
The New Jersey Democrat, who stepped down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee after being indicted last fall on bribery and corruption charges, said the Justice Department created a “danger” by alleging that a sitting member of Congress was acting as a foreign agent.
“This is an unprecedented accusation, and it has never, ever been levied against a sitting member of Congress — never — and for good reason. It opens a dangerous door for the Justice Department to take the normal engagement of members of Congress with foreign governments and to transform those engagements into a charge of being a foreign agent for that government,” he said. “I want to address the accusations as they relate to me, but I don’t want you to lose sight of how dangerous this precedent will be to all of you.”
Menendez was indicted in September alongside his wife and three New Jersey businessmen on federal charges alleging that he accepted bribes to use his job in the Senate to “protect and enrich those businessmen and to benefit the government of Egypt.” The Justice Department has since released two superseding indictments, most recently one last week that alleged Menendez accepted gifts in exchange for taking actions to benefit the Qatari government.
“I have received nothing, absolutely nothing, from the government of Qatar or on behalf of the government of Qatar to promote their image or their issues,” he said Tuesday.
Prosecutors say Menendez accepted cash and gold bars for lobbying an investment company with ties to the Qatari government to invest with New Jersey real estate developer Fred Daibes, who is a co-defendant. Menendez said there will be a “full explanation” at trial about the cash and gold bars.
Menendez criticized the government for releasing superseding indictments, saying prosecutors had the information included in them since the original indictment was released but acted now to keep the case in the news and taint potential jurors.
Menendez was indicted on different bribery charges in 2015. That case resulted in a 2017 mistrial and a partial acquittal, followed by a dismissal of the remaining charges against him.
While Menendez maintained support from members of his own party when facing charges in 2015, many Democrats in New Jersey and Washington have called for his resignation since September. Menendez said his colleagues who have called for his resignation, some of whom are running for reelection in competitive races, made “a political calculation.” He tied that calculation to ongoing talks about changing immigration laws as part of a spending bill to help Israel and Ukraine, along with other pending Senate and international issues.
“Let me also say that for the administration, the political establishment and for my detractors, it would be much easier to have me exit the scene so that an unjust deal on immigration that won’t really solve our problems at the border, but that would hurt the Latino community, would be easier to be achieved, or that a new deal with Iran would be more possible, or cozying up to the Castro regime could take place, or selling F-16s to Turkey could be finalized,” he said. “I get it. But I will not step aside and allow those things to happen in the name of political expediency.”
Menendez’s term is up in November. He has not definitively said whether he would run again, but several Democrats are already running, including Rep. Andy Kim and Tammy Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy. His namesake son, freshman Rep. Rob Menendez, also faces a primary challenge from Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who, according to published reports, has raised nearly $1 million since he launched his campaign last month.