UPDATE: Sen. Bob Menendez temporarily stepped down from his powerful role as chairman of the Senate Relations Committee late Friday afternoon, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Federal prosecutors indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on corruption charges for allegedly taking bribes to help business partners in New Jersey as well as the Egyptian government.
The indictment alleges that Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash as well as gold bars and a luxury vehicle from three New Jersey businessmen. His wife, Nadine Menendez, was also charged.
Wael Hana, a New Jersey businessman, allegedly promised to put the senator’s wife on his payroll for a no-show job in exchange for Menendez’s promise to facilitate weapons sales to Egypt. The indictment also claims that Hana arranged a meeting between the lawmaker and multiple Egyptian officials in a Senate office in which no staff were present.
Menendez also allegedly passed on information about the staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo via his then-girlfriend to Hana, who subsequently gave it to an Egyptian official.
Among the most significant allegations is the claim that Menendez personally ghost wrote a 2018 letter for Egyptian officials to use in lobbying efforts “to convince other U.S. Senators to release a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt.”
In a statement, Menendez denied the allegations as “baseless” and claimed they are the work of “forces behind the scenes” who have “repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” an apparent reference to previous corruption charges against the senator that resulted in a mistrial in 2017. (The Senate Ethics Committee, for its part, found that Menendez had broken the law and “severely admonished” him in a rare public censure.)
“Those behind the campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction,” Menendez argued. “Even worse, they see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals.”
Despite the fiery statement, Menendez will reportedly step down from his role as chairman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to WNBC, NBC’s New York affiliate.
The allegations come amid growing concerns about the extent of foreign influence peddling in the United States. As Nick Cleveland-Stout reported in RS last year, numerous former officials have gone on to lobby for Egypt, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) former chief of staff. A 2020 report by Ben Freeman of the Quincy Institute found foreign countries had given at least $175 million to U.S. think tanks.
Freeman, who recently testified before Congress about Saudi influence campaigns in the United States, described the accusations as “deeply troubling.”
“If the indictment is accurate, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was selling U.S. foreign policy for cash and gold,” he told RS. “This was all allegedly happening at the same time as serious concerns were being raised — including by Menendez’s colleagues in the Senate — about continuing to provide U.S. military assistance to Egypt given the regime’s abysmal human rights record and its anti-democratic turn.”
Freeman noted that the allegations go further than most cases of foreign influence, which often center around whether an American citizen failed to register as an agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
But the accusations Menendez faces go further, leading government watchdogs like Citizens for Ethics in Washington (CREW) to call for his immediate resignation.
“With these latest revelations, it’s time for Senator Menendez to resign,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “The stain of corruption continuously taints Menendez.”
The alleged work on behalf of Egypt is noteworthy given the lawmaker’s long-standing public stances in favor of promoting democracy abroad and holding autocratic regimes accountable for their excesses. His response to the accusations mentions that he has “stood steadfast against dictators around the world,” noting his work on Iran, Cuba, and Turkey but pointedly leaving out Egypt from the list.
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