Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) gave his first public comments on Monday, saying that he will not resign from his Senate seat amid an indictment on federal charges of bribery.
Menendez and his wife were indicted over the weekend on charges including conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
The bribes the couple received included “cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other items of value,” the indictment says.
Federal investigators found more than $480,000 in cash, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe”.
On Monday, Menendez claimed the money was his and had been earned legitimately.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” he said. “These were money drawn from my personal savings account based on the income I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.”
Menendez did not take questions from reporters but said he should be presumed innocent.
“The allegations against me are just that – allegations,” he said.
“The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system. We cannot set aside the presumption of innocence for political expediency when the harm is irrevocable,” Menendez said.
House Democrats and Democratic officials in New Jersey, including Gov. Phil Murphy, all called on Menendez to resign.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) became the second senator to call for his resignation. The White House called the charges against Menendez “very serious”.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) became the first senator to call on Menendez to resign, confirming he is in the process of returning the money the disgraced senator gave to his 2022 election campaign.
We are in the process of returning the money,” Fetterman spokesman Joe Calvello told NBC News, “in envelopes stuffed with $100 bills.”