Kabari99: Sen. Bob Menendez’s defense against new federal corruption charges against him, his wife and business associates Friday revealed that he’s adopting the same defiant stance he took when he faced federal accusations nearly a decade ago.
A three-term senator who has held office at every level across New Jersey’s rough-and-tumble political landscape, Menendez vowed to fight the latest set of charges and questioned the veracity of the indictment.
In almost the same language he used in 2017 after a mistrial on federal corruption charges, he cast the indictment Friday in political terms and vowed to continue his work in the Senate.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said in a statement. It was an echo from six years earlier, when he addressed “those who were digging my political grave” and told them he would not forget who they were.
Bob Menendez BUSINESSMEN ALSO CHARGED
Menendez, his wife and the businessmen – Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes – are all expected to appear in Manhattan federal court on Sept. 27 to face charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
Bob and Nadine Menendez also each face one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. The pair each face up to 45 years in prison, though any sentence would ultimately be determined by a judge and would likely be much shorter.
According to the indictment, Hana – who is originally from Egypt – arranged meetings in 2018 between the senator and Egyptian officials, in which officials pressed Menendez to sign off on military aid Washington had withheld over concerns about the country’s human rights record.
In exchange, Hana, 40, put Nadine Menendez on the payroll of a company he controlled that had the exclusive right to certify halal meat shipped to Egypt from the United States, prosecutors said.
The senator later sought to persuade the U.S. Department of Agriculture to not take any action to interfere with the company’s monopoly status, according to the indictment.
“We are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit,” a spokesperson for Hana said in a statement.
The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors said Uribe, who worked in the trucking and insurance businesses, gave Nadine Menendez $15,000 in cash to help pay for a Bob Menendez-Benz convertible after her husband asked an official at the New Jersey attorney general’s office to resolve fraud investigations into Uribe’s associates favorably.
Daibes, a real estate developer, gave Menendez gold bars and cash after Menendez sought to influence a federal criminal case in New Jersey against Daibes for obtaining loans under false pretenses, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said. Daibes pleaded guilty and received a probationary sentence.
Lawyers for Uribe and Daibes did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Unlike his first federal corruption trial, though, New Jersey’s Democratic establishment support for Menendez eroded Friday.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, the leaders of the Democrat-led Legislature and the state party chairman called for his resignation.
“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 said in a statement.
Some who’ve known Menendez for years, though, point to his resilience and said he won’t be going anywhere without a fight, for now.
“Sen. Menendez is going to have to decide what’s best for him and his family. He is a fighter. I’ve never met anybody that is as tough as he is,” Steve Sweeney, the former Democratic Senate president, said in a phone interview. “We all could say, ‘Leave.’ It’s not our decision, and it wouldn’t be fair to tell someone to leave if they feel they haven’t done anything wrong.”
Bob Menendez, 69, has survived politically for nearly five decades.
The son of Cuban immigrants and an attorney by training, he was a Union City, New Jersey, school board member at age 20 — before he graduated from law school — and went on to become the mayor of the city, where he still has deep roots.
His own biography touts the fact that he wanted to fight corruption early in his political career, testifying against Union City officials and building a reputation as tough. From there, he was elected to the state Assembly, then the state Senate before heading to the U.S. House.
Bob Menendez was appointed to be a U.S. senator in 2006 when the seat opened up after incumbent Jon Corzine became governor. He was elected outright in 2006 and again in 2012 and 2018. He served as chair of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee beginning in 2013, but lost that post after the earlier indictment. He regained the position after federal prosecutors did not renew charges in that case, which ended in a mistrial.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Menendez “temporarily” stepped down from his role as chairman until the matter is resolved.
The 2018 contest was noteworthy because it came just after the 2017 mistrial and the Republican Party had poured millions into defeating him. He prevailed and hasn’t hinted at retirement.
“People have underestimated Bob Menendez continuously throughout his career and have almost always been surprised at the end when he emerges victorious,”
said Benjamin Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship.
Menendez, whose wife Nadine also was charged in the Friday indictment, married in 2020. The couple began dating in 2018 and got engaged in 2019 after meeting at an IHOP in Union City, a frequent haunt of Menendez’s.
He has two children from a previous relationship, daughter Alicia Menendez, a television news anchor and author, and son Rob Menendez, who was elected to Congress last year. In a statement, Rob Menendez stood by his father, saying he believes in his father’s “integrity and values.”
In Congress, Menendez has been a vocal advocate for overhauling the immigration system, securing abortion rights and supporting key Biden administration policies, like the 2021 Inflation Reduction Act.
His left-leaning politics make him a good fit for New Jersey, which has over 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said, and are a large factor in his staying power. Plus, he’s been in public life for decades, people know him and support him, she said.
But she sounded a cautious about his political prospects.
“I think it sounds very serious. I think there are going to be serious decisions made. I think there is a necessity for serious decisions to be made about how the party is going to handle all this,” she said.
Messages seeking comment from the governor and party spokespeople were not immediately returned Friday.
The first time Menendez was indicted, authorities said he used his political influence to help a Florida eye doctor who gave him lavish gifts and campaign contributions.
He was accused of pressuring officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in favor of his friend Dr. Salomon Melgen, securing visas for the doctor’s girlfriends and helping protect a contract the doctor had to provide port-screening equipment to the Dominican Republic. He declared his innocence then and wasn’t charged again after a jury deadlocked in 2017.
The new set of charges unveiled Friday allege Menendez took repeated actions to benefit Egypt despite US. government concerns over the country’s human rights record, including ghost-writing a letter to fellow senators encouraging them to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt as well as transmitting non-public information to Egyptian officials about military issues, the indictment says.
He’s also accused of trying to derail the criminal case against one of the businessmen advocating to install Philip R. Sellinger to be the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. Menendez believed he could influence Sellinger, prosecutors said, and also tried to use his position of power to meddle in a separate investigation by the New Jersey attorney general’s office.