Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was criminally indicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud, and extortion in a scheme that involved his wife and three associates as co-indictees and the government of Egypt.
The senior senator from New Jersey immediately faced calls from fellow Democrats to resign, including from Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), Fox News reported.
The call from Fetterman for Menendez to resign is particularly rich given that the Pennsylvania senator has also faced and ignored mounting calls for his own resignation, not due to a criminal indictment but rather because of his apparent health issues and inability to effectively do the job he was elected to do amid his ongoing recovery from a stroke he suffered prior to the 2022 election.
"Sen. Menendez should resign," Sen. Fetterman said in a Saturday statement, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence under our system, but he is not entitled to continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations."
The junior senator from Pennsylvania added of his New Jersey colleague, "I hope he chooses an honorable exit and focuses on his trial."
Fetterman's call for Menendez to resign followed similar demands from a group of House Democrats, including several from the New Jersey delegation, as well as from Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
"The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing," Murphy said in a Friday statement. "These are serious charges that 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," the governor added. "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."
Despite the calls for his resignation from a growing list of his Democratic colleagues and own state governor, The Hill reported that Sen. Menendez not only defiantly refused those demands but also decided to play the race card by insinuating that his "Latino" heritage played some role in the push to oust him from office. He did, however, step down from his role as chair of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty," Menendez said in a Friday statement. "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," the senator added. "It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere."
The Justice Department announced on Friday that criminal indictments had been unsealed against Sen. Menendez, his wife Nadine Menendez, and three associates -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes -- who are all alleged to have been involved in a years-long bribery, fraud, and extortion scheme designed and intended to benefit themselves and the interests of the government of Egypt.
Menendez stands accused of accepting "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in bribes in the form of cash, gold bars, a Mercedes convertible, and other things in value in exchange for using his official position to attempt to protect his associates from criminal investigations and benefit their business interests as well as the Egyptian government and military.
He is charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, and if convicted on all three counts could face up to 45 years in prison.