Bob Menendez, the New Jersey senator, arrived at court on Wednesday morning to answer explosive charges that he was bribed with $100,000 worth of gold bars and piles of cash to give U.S. secrets to Egypt and do favors for New Jersey businessmen.
The Democrat is making his first appearance in a federal court in Manhattan as the unprecedented scandal rocked Congress and calls from colleagues for him to resign reached a crescendo.
Menendez, 69, arrived hand-in-hand with his Lebanon-born wife Nadine, 56, who is also set to be arraigned in the alleged corruption scheme.
They clutched on to each other, looking grim-faced and saying nothing, as they ran a gauntlet of protesters.
Fred Daibes, one of the businessmen accused of bribing Menendez, also arrived at the court to answer the charges.
A protester holds a sign as the senator (middle) and his wife arrive at court
Fred Daibes arrives for his court appearance alongside Senator Bob Menendez at Manhattan Federal Court on September 27, 2023 in New York City
Menendez was forced to step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee after the indictment was brought last week.
But he has been defiant and says allegations that he abused his power to line his own pockets are baseless.
He has said he is confident he will be exonerated and has no intention of leaving the Senate.
Authorities say they found nearly $500,000 in cash, much of it hidden in clothing and closets, at his home.
There were also gold bars worth more than $100,000 at the house in New Jersey which Menendez, 69, shares with his wife.
He has hired Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell to represent in the bribery case.
On Monday, Menendez launched a passionate defense, saying the cash found in his home was drawn from his personal savings accounts over the years, and that he kept on hand for emergencies.
It is the second corruption case in a decade against Menendez, whose last trial involving different allegations ended with jurors failing to reach a verdict in 2017.
Bob and Nadine Menendez attend an event in Italy on Sept 1, 2023
Two of the gold bars found during a search by federal agents of Sen. Bob Menendez’s home and safe deposit box
Fellow New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker on Tuesday joined the calls for Menendez to resign, saying in a statement that the indictment contains ‘shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing.’
Around half of Senate Democrats have now said that Menendez should step down, including several running for reelection next year.
Also set to be arraigned Wednesday is Menendez’s wife, Nadine, who prosecutors say played a key role in collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes from three New Jersey businessmen seeking help from the powerful lawmaker.
An attorney for Nadine Menendez has said she also denies the allegations and will fight the charges.
Two of the businessmen — Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes — are also expected to be arraigned.
The third man, Wael Hana, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges including conspiracy to commit bribery.
Hana was arrested at New York’s Kennedy airport Tuesday after returning voluntarily from Egypt to face the charges, and was ordered freed pending trial.
Bob Menendez and his wife Nadine arrive for a reception in the East Room of the White House on May 16, 2022
One of the envelopes full of cash found at the senator’s home bore Daibes’ DNA and was marked with the real estate developer’s return address, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors say Hana promised to put Menendez’s wife on his company’s payroll in a low-or-no-show job in exchange for Menendez using his influential post to facilitate foreign military sales and financing to Egypt.
Prosecutors allege Hana also paid $23,000 toward her home mortgage, wrote $30,000 checks to her consulting company, promised her envelopes of cash, sent her exercise equipment and bought some of the gold bars that were found in the couple’s home.
The indictment alleges repeated actions by Menendez to benefit Egypt, despite U.S. government misgivings over the country’s human rights record that in recent years have prompted Congress to attach restrictions on aid.
Bob Menendez arriving at court in New York City
Fred Daibes arriving at court
Prosecutors, who detailed meetings and dinners between Menendez and Egyptian officials, say Menendez gave sensitive U.S. government information to Egyptian officials.
They say he also ghost wrote a letter to fellow senators encouraging them to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt, one of the top recipients of U.S. military support.
Prosecutors also accuse Menendez of pressuring a U.S. agricultural official to stop opposing a lucrative deal that gave Hana’s company a monopoly over certifying that imported meat met religious standards.
They also allege Menendez tried to interfere in criminal investigations involving associates.
In one case, he allegedly pushed to install a federal prosecutor in New Jersey whom Menendez believed he could influence to derail a criminal case against Daibes.
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