Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on Monday vowed to return to Washington this week, despite being indicted on bribery and corruption charges.
“I understand how deeply concerning this can be,” the Senator said during a news conference in Union City, New Jersey. “However the allegations leveled against me are just that—allegations.”
On Friday, Menendez was indicted by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York on charges that he and his wife, Nadine Menendez, had accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” in exchange for political influence.
Prosecutors said the bribes included gold bars, cash, home mortgage payments, a luxury vehicle and compensation for a “low-or-no-show job”—Nadine Menendez was allegedly put on the payroll of New Jersey businessman Wael “Will” Hana, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that a “corrupt relationship” between Sen. Menendez and three businessmen, one of whom was Hana, began around 2018 when Nadine Menendez “worked to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials” to her husband. Prosecutors said the agreement called for Hana, with the help of the two other businessmen, to provide bribes to the couple in exchange for the Senator’s using his position to benefit the Egyptian government, Hana and others.
Menendez only addressed the cash during his news conference, which prosecutors said was found hidden in clothing.
“For 30 years I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in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,” Menendez stated, having noting at the beginning of his remarks that he’s the son of Cuban refugees. “Now, this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived through those 30 years.”
He did not mention the gold bars, the “luxury” Mercedes Benz nor his wife’s alleged job during his remarks Monday.
Menendez, did, however, have words for the politicians in his own party, which included Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) who’ve been calling for him to resign from the Senate.
“The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system,” Menendez insisted. “We cannot set aside the presumption of innocence for political expediency when the harm is irrevocable. 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.”
“Remember, prosecutors get it wrong sometimes. Sadly I know that,” he added, likely referencing a previous indictment in 2015 on some dozen charges, including bribery and conspiracy, in a case ended in a mistrial when jurors failed to reach a verdict after a week of deliberations.
Menendez, who has stepped aside as the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, went on to defend his record on Egypt. “If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in the indictment and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable” for its human rights abuses, its deepening relationship with Russia and its erosion of the independence of its judiciary among other concerns.
Speaking directly to the people of New Jersey, he defended his domestic record, noting his backing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), reproductive healthcare, funding community healthcare centers, lowering prescription drug costs and affordable child care.
“For now I remain focused on continuing to do the important work I do every day on behalf of the 9 million people who call New Jersey home—including everything we can this week to avoid a government shutdown,” Mendendez concluded.
Before switching his remarks from English to Spanish, he vowed to continue to fight for critical funding for states affected by natural disasters, and to ensure the people of Ukraine have what they need to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“And I’ll return to Washington this week to do exactly that,” said Menendez.