Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was indicted Friday on allegations that he and his wife accepted over $600,000 in bribes from a group of New Jersey businessmen on behalf of interests in Egypt.
He has denied the charges, denouncing them as a “smear campaign,” calling the allegations “baseless” and “false.”
Here is what we know about Menendez’s indictment.
What are the allegations?
Prosecutors allege that Menendez and his wife Nadine Arslanian accepted cash, gold bars, a luxury car and a mortgage on their home in return for assisting the businessmen. The FBI found nearly $500,000 in cash and more than $100,000 in gold at Menendez’s home in a raid last year, allegedly payment for the bribes.
According to prosecutors, Menendez pressured New Jersey officials to drop or slow criminal prosecutions against the businessmen and their allies.
He has also been accused of using his position in the Senate to advocate on behalf of Egyptian interests, including lobbying for a dam considered important to the Egyptian government and moving to advance U.S. arms deals with the country.
Menendez also set up a business — Strategic International Business Consultants, LLC — to facilitate the bribes, prosecutors allege, as well as used his influence to protect the monopoly of a second business related to Egyptian interests and the businessmen.
The senator, his wife and the three businessmen were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. Additionally, the senator and his wife were charged with conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
Chorus of calls for resignation
A growing list of Democrats have called on Menendez to resign from office, headlined by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.)
“The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing,” Murphy said in a statement Friday. “These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
The governor also emphasized that Menendez is innocent until proven guilty, but that the gravity of the charges alone hurts his ability to do his job.
“However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state,” he continued. “Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
If the New Jersey senator were to resign, Murphy would be in charge of selecting his replacement. Menendez’s current term ends in January 2025.
Nearly half of New Jersey’s Democratic lawmakers have called for Menendez to step down, including Reps. Andy Kim, Mikie Sherrill, Bill Pascrell and Frank Pallone.
Menendez responded to the calls late Friday, saying that he will not leave office.
“Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty,” Menendez said in a statement late Friday. “I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I’ve had for the past five decades. This is the same record of success these very same leaders have lauded all along.”
“It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat,” he added. “I am not going anywhere.”
The senator did, however, step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
History of corruption scandals
Friday’s indictment was not the first time Menendez has faced criminal charges while in office. In 2015, Menendez was indicted on similar bribery claims over his relationship with a Miami doctor.
Prosecutors alleged that Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the doctor in exchange for pressuring the State Department to advocate for their interests in the Dominican Republic.
They also alleged that the senator helped attain passports for the doctor’s multiple girlfriends and other personal favors. In total, prosecutors alleged that Menendez received over $750,000 in money and other benefits including luxury vacations in exchange for his work.
The case went to trial in 2017, but the charges were later dropped after the jury could not reach a verdict.