Watch CBS News

Sen. Bob Menendez pleads not guilty to federal charges in bribery case

Robert Menendez pleads not guilty to bribery
Sen. Robert Menendez and his wife plead not guilty to bribery, fraud 03:03

Washington — Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to three federal charges stemming from an alleged bribery scheme that involved the senator using his political power to help the Egyptian government and three New Jersey businessmen.

The New Jersey senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were arraigned in U.S. district court in Manhattan after they were indicted alongside three New Jersey businessmen last week. Nadine Menendez also entered a plea of not guilty for the three charges filed against her.

Menendez was released on a $100,000 bond and had to surrender his passport. The senator can travel abroad on official business as long as he notifies the court and cannot speak about the case with political advisors, his staff or staff for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is a member, who have personal knowledge of it. Nadine Menendez was released on $250,000 bond. 

The Justice Department claimed Menendez and his wife engaged in a yearslong plot through which the couple accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars, gold bars and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, among other items. But Menendez has defiantly denied any wrongdoing and repeatedly said he believes that he will be exonerated. 

The senator on Monday pledged to remain in his role as the senior senator representing New Jersey, though he did step down as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Justice Department lawyers said it was through his position as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel that Menendez was able to wield influence to benefit the three New Jersey businessmen, who are also charged, and the Egyptian government in exchange for the bribes. 

The FBI has opened a counterintelligence investigation related to Menendez's indictment, two sources told CBS News. Agents are looking into any possible wrongdoing between the senator and Egyptian officials or contacts. 

Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and his wife Nadine arrive at the U.S. district court in New York City on Sept. 27, 2023.
Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and his wife Nadine arrive at the U.S. district court in New York City on Sept. 27, 2023. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

On at least two occasions, Menendez shared sensitive, nonpublic information from the U.S. government, including about U.S. military aid to Egypt, and pressured a high-ranking official with the Department of Agriculture to take actions that would benefit a halal meat company owned by one of his co-defendants, according to the indictment. He also is accused of attempting to interfere with state and federal investigations to benefit two co-defendants in exchange for cash, furniture, gold bars and the luxury car.

Federal agents conducted a court-authorized search of Menendez's New Jersey home in June 2022 and found more than $480,000 in cash, some stuffed in envelopes and hidden in clothing, gold bars worth more than $100,000 and other items allegedly paid for by the three businessmen, including the Mercedes-Benz, according to the charging document.

Menendez said Monday the cash found by agents was withdrawn from his personal savings account and kept for "emergencies," as has been his practice for decades. He also cited "the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba." 

The bribery charges filed against him come years after Menendez faced roughly a dozen federal charges following accusations he accepted gifts from a wealthy Democratic donor in exchange for political favors. That case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

Calls for Menendez's resignation

During those proceedings roughly five years ago, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, Menendez's fellow senator from New Jersey, testified as a character witness, and in 2019, Booker told HuffPost that he had seen Menendez "in the most intimate moments and didn't see a hint of corruption."

But on Tuesday, Booker joined a growing number of Senate Democrats in calling for Menendez to step down.

"Senator Menendez fiercely asserts his innocence and it is therefore understandable that he believes stepping down is patently unfair. But I believe this is a mistake," Booker said in a statement. "Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost. Senator Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving."

While Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania and Senate Democrats facing competitive reelection bids were the first to urge Menendez to resign, Booker's statement was followed by a flood of calls from many more of Menendez's Democratic Senate colleagues for the senior senator to step aside.

As of Wednesday morning, more than half of the Senate Democratic caucus said Menendez should resign his seat, including the second-ranking Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, and Sen. Patty Murray, who as president pro tempore is third in line to the presidency.

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has urged caution. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, called for Menendez's "immediate resignation" last Friday, and several House Democrats suggested the senator should relinquish his post.

Menendez has served in the Senate since 2006 and his seat is up in 2024. He has not yet announced if he is running for reelection, but Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey, a Democrat, announced over the weekend that he would mount a bid for the seat.

Andy Triay and Pat Milton contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.