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Indicted Senator Bob Menendez Teases Independent Reelection Bid

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey said Thursday that he hoped to seek reelection as an “independent Democrat” if he is exonerated of federal corruption charges, but ruled out running in the Democratic primary.

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“I am hopeful my exoneration will take place this summer and allow me to pursue my candidacy as an independent Democrat in the general election,” Menendez told his state’s voters in a nine-minute video released on YouTube.

“I know many of you are hurt and disappointed in me with the accusations I am facing,” he said, proclaiming his innocence. “All I can ask of you is to withhold judgment until justice takes place.”

Menendez, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would not file for the primary given the charges against him. His support has plummeted in polls, but his plans to run as an independent could hurt the Democratic Party’s ability to hold the seat and its slender majority in a year in which it faces competitive races in several Republican-led states.

He has pleaded not guilty to bribery charges that accuse him of accepting gold bars, cash and a Mercedes Benz in exchange for helping three businessmen. His wife, Nadine, is also a defendant.

Federal prosecutors re-indicted them earlier this month, adding obstruction of justice allegations. Menendez was accused of accepting bribes from a businessman to make public statements in favor of Qatar and acting as an unregistered agent of the Egyptian government.

On top of obstruction, the US also brought new bribery, fraud and foreign agent charges to previous conspiracy allegations.

The new charges followed a guilty plea by Jose Uribe, a businessman, who is now helping prosecutors. Uribe said he bribed the senator with a Mercedes-Benz convertible for help in resolving two legal matters.

Menendez has resisted widespread demands for his resignation from fellow Democrats, including from the state’s other senator, Cory Booker, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. The state’s first lady, Tammy Murphy, and Representative Andy Kim are among politicians preparing to run for the Democratic nod in a June 4 party primary.

Menendez in September pleaded not guilty to the charges that he acted as an agent of Egypt. The US on Jan. 2 filed revised charges that he took bribes from a New Jersey businessman who was seeking an investment from a Qatari fund for a real estate project. In exchange, prosecutors allege, Menendez made “multiple public statements” in support of the Gulf country.

Menendez has been a powerful force in New Jersey politics for decades, and was appointed to the Senate by former Governor Jon Corzine in 2006. He survived a separate indictment over gifts he received from a Florida doctor. A 2017 trial ended when jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict and the Department of Justice later dropped the case.

In the video released Thursday, the senator described his record of action in crises including the financial crisis and recession of 2008, Hurricane Sandy and the coronavirus pandemic, and referred to his rise from humble origins as a child of immigrants in Union City.

“I’ve never backed down from a fight worth having,” he said.

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