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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy calls on Sen. Bob Menendez to resign in wake of indictment

Sen. Bob Menendez indicted on fraud, extortion
Sen. Bob Menendez indicted on fraud, extortion 03:58

Washington — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called on Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez to resign following his indictment on federal bribery charges Friday, joining a growing chorus of fellow Democrats calling for the senator to step aside.

Murphy called the allegations contained in the indictment "deeply disturbing" and said they "implicate national security and the integrity of our 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," Murphy said in a statement. "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."

Menendez responded to the calls for him to step down with a statement Friday evening, saying: "I am not going anywhere."

"Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty," Menendez said. "I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I've had for the past five decades. This is the same record of success these very same leaders have lauded all along. It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat."

What is Menendez charged with?

The longtime Democratic senator is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes in exchange for using his power and influence to enrich and protect three New Jersey businessmen and benefit Egypt's government through the approval of arms sales. 

Menendez is charged along with his wife Nadine Menendez and the businessmen, identified in court papers as Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes. The senator and his wife face one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right. The three New Jersey associates face two counts. All of the defendants are expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan next week for the first time.

Prosecutors said federal agents found more than $480,000 in cash during a search of the Menendezes' home in June 2022, "much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe," as well as over $70,000 in a safe deposit box belonging to Nadine Menendez. They also found gold bars worth more than $100,000, according to the indictment.

Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a press conference after announcing that Sen. Robert Menendez has been indicted on corruption charges charges on Sept. 22, 2023, in New York City.
Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks during a press conference after announcing that Sen. Robert Menendez has been indicted on corruption charges charges on Sept. 22, 2023, in New York City. ALEXI ROSENFELD / Getty Images

The bribes also allegedly included mortgage payments, compensation for a "low-or-no-show-job," a luxury vehicle and "other things of value," according to the charging document.

Menendez vehemently denied the charges in an earlier statement Friday, calling them "baseless" and saying they are part of an "active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists."

More New Jersey Democrats call on Menendez to resign

Several Democratic members of New Jersey's congressional delegation joined Murphy in calling for Menendez to step aside in the wake of the indictment.

Rep. Andy Kim, who represents the state's 3rd Congressional District, was the first member to do so, calling the allegations "serious and alarming."

"It doesn't matter what your job title is or your politics — no one in America is above the law. The people of New Jersey absolutely need to know the truth of what happened, and I hope the judicial system works thoroughly and quickly to bring this truth to light," Kim said in a statement. "In the meantime, I don't have confidence that the Senator has the ability to properly focus on our state and its people while addressing such a significant legal matter. He should step down."

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a former federal prosecutor, likewise said Menendez should resign as the legal process plays out.

"These are serious allegations against Senator Menendez and if proven true, there is no room for this kind of conduct in public service," Sherrill said. "Today is a sad day for New Jersey and I believe it's in the best interest of our state that Senator Menendez resign."

Over the weekend, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat who represents New Jersey's 5th Congressional District, praised Menendez in a statement as a "tough fighter for New Jersey" on a number of issues and said that Menendez deserves his day in court, "but given the gravity of the allegations, I believe it will be difficult for the Senator to carry out his responsibilities." 

"For the good of the state, he should step aside as he focuses on his defense," Gottheimer said.

Other Democratic lawmakers weigh in

On Sunday, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also called on Menendez to step down.

"I do believe that it is in the best interest for Sen. Menendez to resign in this moment," Ocasio-Cortez told "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan Sunday. "Consistency matters. It shouldn't matter if it's a Republican or a Democrat. The details in this indictment are extremely serious. They involve the nature of not just his but all of our seats in Congress."

She also rejected Menendez's accusation that he was being pushed to resign his seat because he is Latino.  

"As a Latina, there are absolutely ways in which there is systemic bias, but I think what is here in this indictment is quite clear. And I believe it is in the best interest to maintain the integrity of the seat. I want to emphasize that all people, they must be extended the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. That is the legal reality in our country," she told Brennan. "But when it comes to the political and the standard of dignity that we want to maintain for the public in the United States Congress, I do believe it is in the best interest."

Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman has also called on Menendez to resign. 

"Senator Menendez should resign," Fetterman posted on X. "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."

Until Monday, Fetterman was the only Democratic senator who had called for Menendez to step down. Six other Democrats in the upper chamber had joined him by Tuesday: Sens. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Jon Tester of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Peter Welch of Vermont and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Rosen, Casey, Tester, Brown and Baldwin are up for reelection in 2024. 

Menendez relinquished his post as the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier Friday, as required under the rules of the Senate Democratic Caucus. But he gave no indication that he planned to resign his Senate seat in his earlier statement, instead vowing to "remain focused on continuing this important work" and saying he "will not be distracted by baseless allegations."

Other prominent Democrats declined to call for Menendez to resign, most notably Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The New York Democrat called Menendez "a dedicated public servant" and said he "has a right to due process and a fair trial." Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin likewise said the legal process should be allowed to "move forward without prejudice." 

"Senator Menendez has a right to respond aggressively in court to the current charges, and I am confident that he will do so," Cardin said.

Reps. Adam Schiff and Seth Moulton have also called on Menendez to step down.

Menendez was indicted once before in 2015 on roughly a dozen charges, including bribery and conspiracy, 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 after deliberating for more than a week.

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