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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    Democratic Sen. Menendez rejects calls to resign and says cash found in home was not bribe proceeds

    Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., right, and his wife Nadine Arslanian, pose for a photo on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

    UNION CITY, N.J. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey defiantly pushed back against federal corruption charges on Monday, saying nearly half a million dollars in cash authorities found in his home was from his personal savings, not from bribes, and was on hand for emergencies.

    Rejecting rising calls for him to resign, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he believed he'd be cleared of charges that he took cash and gold in illegal exchange for helping Egypt and New Jersey business associates.

    “I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator," Menendez said at Hudson County Community College's campus in Union City, where he grew up.

    He did not respond to questions and did not say whether he would seek reelection next year.

    Addressing allegations in the indictment unsealed Friday that authorities found cash stuffed in envelopes and clothing at his home, Menendez said that stemmed from his parents' fear of confiscation of funds from their time in Cuba.

    “This may seem old fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years,” he said.

    Authorities recovered about 10 envelopes with tens of thousands of dollars in cash that had the fingerprints of one of the other defendants in the case on them, according to the indictment.

    Menendez also addressed his relationship with Egypt, which plays a central role in the indictment against him, suggesting he's been tough on the country over its detention of Americans and other “human rights abuses.”

    “If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable,” he said.

    Prosecutors say he met with Egyptian military and intelligence officials, passed along non-public information about employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and ghostwrote a letter on behalf of Egypt asking his Senate colleagues to release a hold on $300 million worth of aid. He did not directly address those allegations Monday.

    The state’s Democratic leadership, including Gov. Phil Murphy, the state party chairmen and leaders of the Legislature, along with some of Menendez’s congressional colleagues, are calling on him to resign

    In Washington, however, where his party holds a bare Senate majority, some of Menendez’s Democratic colleagues have stopped short of urging him to give up his seat, notably Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.

    Even though Schumer has not called for Menendez to step down, other members of his caucus have. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Vermont Sen. Peter Welch called for his resignation on Monday, following Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman on Saturday.

    Menendez did, however, step down as required as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Schumer said on Friday, when the indictment was unsealed.

    If he seeks reelection, Menendez will face at least one challenger in a primary next year after Democratic Rep. Andy Kim announced over the weekend that he will run for the Senate because of the charges against the state’s senior senator.

    Menendez’s reelection campaign could face significant hurdles besides the criminal indictment, the second one he has faced in eight years, in light of opposition from state party leaders.

    If the Democratic Party abandons Menendez, he could lose a potent benefit of party support: the so-called party line, or preferred ballot placement in the primary, widely regarded as a significant boost to incumbents and those with establishment backing.

    Menendez has denied any wrongdoing in the federal case against him, his wife and three of their business associates. In an emailed statement last week, he accused prosecutors of misrepresenting “the normal work of a congressional office” and said he will not allow his work in the Senate to be distracted by “baseless allegations.” A lawyer for his wife said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”

    He and Nadine Menendez are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold and a luxury car from a trio of New Jersey businessmen for a variety of corrupt acts.

    The indictment said Menendez used his clout to interfere in three criminal cases, pressured U.S. agriculture regulators to protect an associate’s business interests, and used his position as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to influence U.S. policy on Egypt.

    Federal agents who searched his home in 2022 found more than $480,000 in cash stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe, and gold bars worth more than $100,000, prosecutors said. Another $70,000 was discovered inside his wife’s safety deposit box, they said.

    Some Menendez supporters attended the news conference .Among them was Manny Contreras, a resident of nearby Passaic County, who said he came to show his support for Menendez and had been voting for him for years.

    “It’s a big problem for the Latino community, we don’t want to see him go, we have to give him the benefit of the doubt," Contreras said.

    He said if Menendez were found guilty, he would have to reconsider his support, but because of the good things in the Menendez’s long career, he was willing to let the process play out.

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