Bob Menendez claims ‘persecution’ in Senate floor remarks after latest allegations

    Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., on Tuesday denied new bribery allegations against him involving Qatar and pushed back on calls from his Senate colleagues to resign in remarks on the chamber floor.

    A federal grand jury last week issued a second superseding indictment against Menendez alleging he helped a New Jersey developer obtain a multimillion-dollar investment from a company linked to Qatar by making a series of statements supporting the country. Menendez is also accused of exchanging text messages with the developer about the alleged scheme.

    Menendez vehemently denied the new allegations in an almost 20-minute speech on the Senate floor in which he maintained his innocence and urged his colleagues not to rush to judgment before he has the opportunity to explain himself in court.

    Sen. Bob Menendez.
    Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., at a committee hearing in Washington on Dec. 6.Alex Brandon / AP file

    In his speech, Menendez decried what he called the “sensational” allegations against him that have led to growing calls by colleagues for his resignation.

    “The United States Attorney’s Office is engaged not in a prosecution, but a persecution,” he said. “They seek a victory, not justice.”

    Menendez argued that he had advocated for business to come to New Jersey as part of his duties as a senator. He acknowledged his positive statements about Qatar and Egypt, but stressed that he has voiced his criticism of those countries and their leaders when he “felt they were falling short of their international obligations.”

    “That give and take, that carrot and stick, that cajoling and rewarding, is the essence of diplomacy,” he said. “It is a job we all partake in every day as part of our duties in the Senate.”

    Menendez denied allegations by the government that he and his wife used his influence to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including cash and gold bars, and said his innocence will be proven at trial.

    “There is no evidence of the giving or receiving of cash and gold bars,” he said. “In fact, there has been and will be at trial a full explanation of what is the truth about those issues, a truth that proves I am entirely innocent of the charges.”

    He accused the government of seeking “to use baseless conjecture, not facts, to create the connective tissue to substantiate the allegations” and said he will not step down in light of the allegations.

    “I will not step aside and allow those things to happen in the name of political expediency,” he said. “I have never chosen the easy path — never have, never will, and will not do so now. I simply asked for justice to be allowed to work its way.”

    The new indictment came months after Menendez and his wife, Nadine, were charged with bribery over their alleged acceptance of large sums of money in exchange for the use of the senator’s influence to enrich three New Jersey businessmen and allegedly to benefit the Egyptian government.

    Menendez was hit with additional charges in October accusing him of accepting bribes from a foreign government and having “provided sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.”

    He, his wife and the businessmen have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

    Menendez stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after he was indicted on the bribery charges in September, but remains a member of the panel.

    Asked on Tuesday when he would make a decision to run for re-election, Menendez replied, “I haven’t decided yet. Last time I ran I declared in March, so I have some time.”

    Menendez also said he would continue to attend classified briefings.

    “I have chosen to attend one when I think it’s going to be of value to me in terms of making decisions,” he said. “When I don’t think it’s going to be of value I have not. And that’s the way I’ve always done it, and that’s the way I continue to do it.”

    Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., renewed his calls for Menendez’s expulsion from the Senate after the latest allegations against the senator.

    On Tuesday, Fetterman sarcastically called Menendez’s floor speech “a portrait of courage.”

    “I mean, I don’t know why this sleazeball is still here. You know, if they’ve expelled Santos, how can we keep him around?” he asked, referring to ousted Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. “I don’t get it. I’ve been calling on now for months and months, you know, we need to chuck him.”