UNION CITY, N.J. (CN) — Speaking publicly for the first time since being indicted on federal corruption charges last week, Senator Robert Menendez maintained his innocence during a news conference Monday in Union City.
“I understand how deeply concerning this can be,” the New Jersey Democrat said. “However, the allegations leveled against me are just that: allegations.”
Menendez said that he won’t be stepping down from the Senate, despite growing calls within his own party for his resignation. He also said that he expects to be fully exonerated of all charges, echoing similar sentiments from his statement on Friday that followed the indictment’s release.
“Everything I’ve accomplished, I’ve worked for despite the naysayers and everyone who has underestimated me,” he said Monday. “I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator.”
Menendez’s charges came after federal investigators say they found more than $600,000 in bribes, including hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, large gold bars and a Mercedes Benz, in the senator’s home. He claimed on Monday that the wads of cash, several of which investigators say they found stuffed in clothing, were merely for personal use.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings accounts, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” Menendez said. “Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings accounts based on the income that I have lawfully derived over these 30 years.”
However, Menendez didn’t comment on the gold bars, estimated to be worth more than $100,000, that investigators said they found in his home.
The 69-year-old senator was indicted alongside his wife, Nadine Menendez, and three other co-defendants, who are being charged for a series of alleged schemes to exploit Menendez’s political power in exchange for the lavish gifts.
One of the schemes alleged in the 39-page indictment involved Menendez working with foreign agents in Egypt to share sensitive U.S. information and benefit the nation’s government. Menendez denied any wrongdoing on Monday, citing his “long record on Egypt.”
“Throughout my time in Congress, I have remained steadfast on the side of civil society and human rights defenders in Egypt and everywhere else in the world,” Menendez said. “If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable for its unjust detention of American citizens and others, its human rights abuses, its deepening relationship with Russia and efforts that have eroded the independence of the nation’s judiciary, among a myriad of concerns.”
Still, Menendez on Friday stepped down from his position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the wake of this latest scandal. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the measure a temporary one.
“Senator Menendez has rightly decided to step down temporarily from his position as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter has been resolved,” Schumer said in a statement on Friday.
But pressure is mounting on Menendez to resign, as several high-profile Democrats have called for the longtime senator to step down amid the allegations. Among them is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who called the charges “extremely serious” during a Sunday interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“The situation is quite unfortunate, but I do believe that it is in the best interest for Senator Menendez to resign in this moment,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “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.”
Senator John Fetterman, D-Pa., also called for Menendez to make an “honorable exit” due to the charges.
“I hope he chooses an honorable exit and focuses on his trial,” Fetterman said in a statement on Saturday.
It’s not the first time that Menendez has faced serious allegations of corruption. In 2015, he was charged with accepting gifts from a wealthy eye doctor, but the trial ended with a hung jury two years later.
“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 in Friday’s statement.
Menendez is widely considered one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate. He’s up for reelection in 2024 after serving in the chamber since 2006.Follow @Uebey
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