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New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez to run for reelection as independent

Former agriculture official testifies in bribery trial of N.J. Sen. Bob Menendez
Former agriculture official testifies in bribery trial of N.J. Sen. Bob Menendez 00:56

Washington — Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has decided to seek reelection as an independent as his trial on federal bribery charges is underway. 

According to the New Jersey Division of Elections' website, his petition to run as an independent candidate was filed Monday and had nearly 2,500 signatures. Menendez needed 800 signatures to gain ballot access. 

"It displeases me to have to go this route, thanks to overzealous prosecutors, but I will do what must be done to continue to uphold my oath of office for my constituents," Menendez said in a statement. "As I have said before; I have committed no crime. I am more confident than ever that New Jerseyans and the rest of the American public will see me exonerated of what I am being accused of, and I will be re-elected to the Senate once again." 

Menendez announced in March that he would not run in the Democratic primary amid allegations that he used his political influence to help three New Jersey businessmen and the governments of Egypt and Qatar. In return, Menendez and his wife, Nadine, received cash, gold bars, a Mercedes convertible, mortgage payments and other gifts, according to prosecutors. 

The three-term senator has resisted intense political pressure to resign and left the door open in his March announcement to running as an independent if he's exonerated this summer. 

"Unfortunately, the present accusations I am facing, of which I am innocent and will prove so, will not allow me to have that type of dialogue and debate with political opponents that have already made it the cornerstone of their campaign," Menendez said at the time. 

The filing deadline to run as an independent is Tuesday, but candidates have until Aug. 16 to withdraw from the race and avoid appearing on the ballot, so if Menendez were to be convicted before then, he would be able to end his candidacy in time to remove his name from the ballot. 

Menendez's trial could last another month. 

Prosecutors have portrayed Menendez as a "corrupt" politician who "put his power up for sale" in the pursuit of lucrative bribes, detailing a complex scheme that involved a halal meat monopoly, the Egyptian and Qatari governments and several criminal investigations. 

Menendez is being tried alongside two New Jersey businessmen — Wael Hana, owner of the halal meat company IS EG Halal, and Fred Daibes, a real estate developer. All three have pleaded not guilty. 

A third businessman who was indicted, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty in March and confessed to buying Menendez's wife a $60,000 Mercedes to influence the senator.

During Menendez's trial, his counsel has been pinning the blame on his wife, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and is expected to go on trial later this summer. Nadine Menendez kept her husband in the dark about her financial challenges and dealings with the businessmen, the senator's attorney argued during opening statements. His attorneys claimed that gold bars seized from the couple's home belonged to Nadine Menendez, and the senator did not have a key to the locked closet in which they were discovered. Nadine Menendez has also pleaded not guilty. 

After the initial indictment was unsealed in September, Menendez was abandoned by Democratic allies, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who appeared as a character witness in Menendez's first federal bribery trial in 2017, which ended in a mistrial. 

Booker told CBS News last month he was "not paying attention" to Menendez's potential run as an independent. 

"I called on him to resign and step down," Booker said. "He deserves, right now, a fair trial. He deserves the presumption of innocence like everybody does."

Primary polls, some which included Menendez before he made the decision not to run as a Democrat, have shown Rep. Andy Kim trouncing his Democratic opponents. Kim was the first member of New Jersey's congressional delegation to call for Menendez's resignation.

"Americans are fed up with politicians putting their own personal benefit ahead of what's right for the country. Everyone knows Bob Menendez isn't running for the people of New Jersey, he's doing it for himself. It's beyond time for change and I'm stepping up to restore integrity back into the U.S. Senate," Kim said in a statement Monday. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, and Illinois Democrat, told reporters Monday he was "certainly" concerned about the embattled senator jeopardizing Democrats' ability to hang on to the seat with his third-party bid. 

"I'm not sure he's ready for my advice," Durbin said. 

Menendez has spent nearly $4.9 million in campaign funds on legal fees since October, according to Federal Election Commission filings. He has about $3.5 million cash on hand and few contributions coming in to his campaign. 

His legal defense fund, which is separate from his campaign account, is bringing in more funds, though he's burning through it quickly. From July 2023 through March 2024, Menendez pulled in more than $658,000 and had a little more than $112,000 remaining. 

Nikole Killion and Laura Garrison contributed reporting. 

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