Democrats receive jolt as New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is indicted on bribery charges

Washington: Just as the 2024 presidential race was warming up, the Democratic Party has been hit by a jolt from the blue as its New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been indicted on bribery charges sourced to Egypt and a widespread call for his resignation. Even as he is stepping down from the committee, he has refused to resign as a Senator.

Despite the indictment, Menendez has defended himself from the charges arguing he was being targeted for being a first generation Latino. He told reporters that the cash that federal agents found strewn around his home actually came from his own bank account.

Menendez faces calls for his resignation from Democrats in his home state, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and most of the state’s US House delegation. Republican Andy Kim has even launched a primary challenge against Menendez, the Business Insider reported.

But the story unfolding on Capitol Hill, appears different. While several House members, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called for Menendez to step aside, most of his Senate colleagues have remained silent, or taken a wait-and-see approach, so far. Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Democrat, said on CNN that the charges were “very serious” but declined to call for Menendez’s resignation.

As of today, 13 of Menendez’s colleagues, mainly Democrats facing competitive re-election in 2024, have demanded his resignation, even as they maintained he was innocent until proved guilty in a court of law.

Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, the first Senator asking him to quit, has planned to return $5,000 donation from the Senator to his campaign “in envelopes stuffed with $100 bills,” according to a Democrat spokesman.

Menendez’s quitting entirely depends on how it plays out, how his Democratic colleagues react and also on whether he is able to remain in the Senate. Just as it was in the case in 2018 when a slew of female Senators called for former Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to resign amid groping allegations, media reports said.

Democrat Senators — John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, Peter Welch of Vermont, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jon Tester of Montana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are the 13 Democrats demanding his head.

No Republicans have called for Menendez to resign yet.

What is Bob Menendez accused of ? Menendez and his wife Nadine have been accused of improperly trading their powers for bribes as the Senate Foreign Relations Chair to increase US aid to Egypt (military equipment and financing) and to benefit three New Jersey businessman: Wael Hana, who founded a Halal meat certification company, Jose Uribe, a former insurance agent and Fred Daibes, a prominent New Jersey builder.

New York Times ran a story saying Menendez was accused of taking bribes in exchange for helping protect Egypt’s access to billions in US aid. The bribes beginning as early as 2018 included more than $500,000 in cash, gifts like jewellery, use of a Mercedes-Benz, a luxury apartment, mortgage payments and gold bars worth as much as $400,000. The indictment says Menendez googled “How much is one kg of gold worth” after his trip to Egypt in October 2021.

Menendez has been charged on three counts: Conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under colour of official right – that’s leveraging his role as a US Senator to influence someone to give them something of value, MO News said in a podcast. Its an aggregator of news from leading newspapers and websites.

Menendez insists he is innocent, calling the allegations ‘baseless’ and accusing the federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who brought case of misinterpreting routine Congressional work. What’s the role of Nadine, wife of Menendez of three years, is alleged to have brokered the deals for her husband with the businessmen from New Jersey.

She facilitated meetings for Menendez with Egyptian officials trading their official powers for bribes. She is alleged to have texted an Egyptian official: “anytime you need anything, you have my number, we can make everything happen.”