Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife are accused of taking bribes of gold bars, a luxury car and cash in exchange for using his outsized sway in foreign affairs to help the government of Egypt — and others — as well as other corrupt acts, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.
Investigators say they found nearly $500,000 in cash hidden in clothing and closets as well as $100,000 in gold bars in a search of the home the 69-year-old senator from New Jersey shares with his wife. Menendez serves as the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The indictment, the second in eight years against Menendez, and comes after a yearslong investigation that delved into his relationships with wealthy New Jersey businessmen.
Menendez says he has been falsely accused but “will not be distracted” from work in the Senate, accusing prosecutors of misrepresenting “the normal work of a congressional office.” In the meantime, he stepped down from his chairmanship, as Senate rules say he must.
A lawyer for Menendez’s wife, Nadine, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
Using his influence as chairman
Menendez is facing bribery, fraud and extortion charges. The indictment includes a scathing list of alleged favors exchanged between the businessmen and Menendez, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has powers and access to information that other senators don’t.
Using his position, Menendez took steps to secretly aid the government of Egypt in exchange for bribes, the indictment says. And as chairman, he had unique influence over foreign military sales and foreign military financing. The indictment notes that Egypt is one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid, including military equipment and grants of more than $1 billion a year. In recent years, the U.S. has withheld some aid due to concerns over human rights violations.
The indictment charges that Menendez disclosed nonpublic information to the businessmen about U.S. military aid and the number and nationality of employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. That information was then forwarded to Egyptian officials. Prosecutors said Menendez also secretly ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of Egypt to other senators requesting release of a hold on $300 million in aid. He also at one point texted his wife to tell one of the businessmen that he was going to “sign off” on a sale of military equipment to Egypt.