Menendez Steps Down From Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Refuses to Resign Amid Bribery Charges

Mr. Menendez's refusal to resign amid bribery charges has triggered intense debate among Democrats.
Menendez Steps Down From Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Refuses to Resign Amid Bribery Charges
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Dec. 12, 2018. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Caden Pearson

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said Friday he won't resign from the Senate despite mounting calls from fellow Democrats for him to do so over an indictment on bribery charges. However, he has stepped aside from his leading role on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

On Friday, amid mounting calls for his resignation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that Mr. Menendez will step aside from his chairmanship on the Senate Foreign Relations panel.

“Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey. He has a right to due process and a fair trial,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “Senator Menendez has rightly decided to step down temporarily from his position as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter has been resolved.”

Late Friday, in response to calls for his resignation, Mr. Menendez defended his decision to remain in office.

“Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement, adding that he would "continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I've had for the past five decades."

“It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat," he added. "I am not going anywhere."

The charges against Mr. Menendez and his wife, filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, include conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.

Mr. Menendez has described the allegations as being part of a “smear campaign.”

Calls for Resignation

Numerous prominent New Jersey Democrats, including Gov. Phil Murphy, State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and State Democratic Party Chair LeRoy Jones, have called for Mr. Menendez's immediate resignation.

Mr. Murphy described the allegations as "deeply disturbing" and asserted they have national security implications and compromise the integrity of the criminal justice system.

“Under our legal system, Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges, and we must respect the process,” Mr. Murphy said. “However, 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.”

Beyond New Jersey, calls for the senator to resign have come from Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a member of House Democratic leadership, who expressed disappointment and asserted that the senator should step down. Mr. Phillips further urged Senate leadership to take action.

According to the charging documents, Mr. Menendez and his wife allegedly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including cash, gold, and mortgage payments, in exchange for using Mr. Menendez's political influence to benefit New Jersey businessmen and the government of Egypt.

Authorities seized cash and gold during a search of Mr. Menendez's home in June last year.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Menendez leveraged his official position to protect and enrich the businessmen and Egypt, which receives substantial financial support from the U.S. government.

The senator is accused of providing non-public, sensitive information to the government of Egypt and pressuring a U.S. Department of Agriculture official to protect a business monopoly held by one of the businessmen.

Furthermore, the charges claim that Mr. Menendez promised to facilitate military equipment sales to Egypt in exchange for the businessmen placing his wife on their company's payroll, a move that allegedly occurred after Egyptian officials raised concerns about stalled funding for military aid.

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.