Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was defiant Friday after he and his wife were indicted on federal bribery charges, saying that prosecutors are engaged in an “active smear campaign” against him and that he will continue his work in the Senate instead of being “distracted by baseless allegations.”
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York unveiled charges against Menendez and his wife, Nadine, earlier Friday, alleging they accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes in exchange for using the senator’s “power and influence” to enrich the three New Jersey businessmen: Wael “Will” Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibe.
Prosecutors labeled it a “corrupt relationship” between Menendez, his wife and the three businessmen.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave. Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists,” Menendez said in a statement, adding that prosecutors see him as a political “obstacle.”
“I have been falsely accused before because I refused to back down to the powers that be and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent,” Menendez said, referring to 2015 federal corruption charges against him that were ultimately dropped in 2018. “I remain focused on continuing this important work and will not be distracted by baseless allegations.
Menendez said that prosecutors “wrote these charges as they wanted,” adding that “the facts are not as presented.”
“Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor’s version,” Menendez said. “To my supporters, friends and the community at large, I ask that you recall the other times the prosecutors got it wrong and that you reserve judgement. I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is.”
Menendez faces three counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, a charge for public officials who take bribes in return for official acts.
The indictment alleges the New Jersey senator provided sensitive U.S. government information to aid Egypt, sought to influence a pair of criminal investigations into two New Jersey businessmen and attempted to interfere with an investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
According to the indictment, the bribes included “cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other things of value.” Last year, Menendez added on his financial disclosure that his wife owned up to $250,000 worth of gold bars.
“Constituent service is part of any legislator’s job — Sen. Menendez is no different,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a press conference. “But we allege that, behind the scenes, Sen. Menendez was doing those things for certain people — the people who were bribing him and his wife.”
Prosecutors also noted that in a search of Menendez’s home, investigators found more than $550,000 in cash that was, in part, hidden in clothes.
Menendez is up for reelection next year.