Sen. Bob Menendez is remaining defiant and has doubled down on his vow to remain in Congress as a growing number of fellow Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) of New York and other influential figures, are calling on him to resign.
The Democrat from New Jersey faces federal charges alleging that he and his wife, Nadine Arslanian Menendez, accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes from the Egyption government in exchange for political favors. In his first press conference since federal prosecutors announced the charges with an indictment on Friday, Menendez said he believes he will be exonerated and reiterated his vow not to resign.
“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 told reporters on Monday morning.
He claimed that the hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in his home that officials believed were related to federal bribery charges were from his personal savings account and rebuked those calling on him to resign.
“The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system,” Menendez said.
The press conference came after a turbulent weekend for Menendez as a small but growing list of Democrats began calling for his resignation. In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez joined a list of House Democrats, including half a dozen New Jersey representatives, to say that the senator should step down over the allegations.
“The situation is quite unfortunate, but I do believe that it is in the best interest for Senator Menendez to resign,” Ocasio-Cortez said on “Face the Nation.”
“In this moment, as you mentioned, consistency matters. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat,” she continued. “The details in this indictment are extremely serious. They involve the nature of not just his, but all of our seats in Congress.”
Ocasio-Cortez went on to emphasize that resigning would be important to “maintain the integrity of the seat” and the “standard of dignity” of an elected official.
Menendez was defiant when the charges came down on Friday, saying that the investigation is an “active smear campaign” against him. “I am not going anywhere,” he said in a statement.
Last year, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials found nearly $500,000 worth of cash hidden in clothing and closets in Menendez’s home, as well as gold bars and a luxury car that government prosecutors say were related to the senator’s alleged plot to use his power as a senator and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez said on Monday that he was storing the cash due to his family history in Cuba. He did not address the gold bars or luxury car that was allegedly part of the bribery scheme.
Menendez has stepped down from being Foreign Relations chair, as required by Senate bylaws for lawmakers charged with a felony. This is the second time that Menendez has been indicted on corruption charges; in 2015, the senator was accused of improperly receiving campaign contributions from an eye doctor in Florida in exchange for promoting the doctor’s business. The case ended in a mistrial.
So far, only one Democratic senator has called on Menendez to resign, Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania..
“Senator Menendez should resign,” Fetterman wrote on social media. “He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but he cannot continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations. I hope he chooses an honorable exit and focuses on his trial.”
“With these latest revelations, it’s time for Senator Menendez to resign. The stain of corruption continuously taints Menendez,” said Noah Bookbinder, a former federal corruption prosecutor and president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, in a statement. “The people of New Jersey should not have to be constantly questioning whether one of their senators is taking action for them or to line his pockets.”
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