New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, and other prominent Democrats in the state, have demanded that Mr Menendez step down after federal prosecutors charged him with bribery for allegedly receiving luxury gifts and hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for providing sensitive information to benefit Egypt.
Governor Murphy called the allegations “deeply disturbing” and said that while Mr Menendez is innocent until proven guilty, “the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state”.
Democratic Representatives Andy Kim, Bill Pascrell Jr, Mikie Sherrill, Frank Pallone and Josh Gottheimer also called on Mr Menendez to give up his seat as he awaits trial.
“The Senator deserves his day in court. But given the gravity of these charges I do not believe that Senator Menendez can continue to carry out the important duties of his office for our state,” Mr Pascrell Jr wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Mr Kim echoed the sentiment. “I don’t have confidence that the Senator has the ability to properly focus on our state and its people while addressing such a significant legal matter. He should step down,” he said, in a statement.
Democrats from around the country joined in the cals from New Jersey lawmakers. Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips said that he was “appalled” by the indictment.
“A member of Congress who appears to have broken the law is someone who I should believe should resign,” Mr Phillips told CNN.
These are serious allegations against Senator Menendez and if proven true, there is no room for this kind of conduct in public service.
Today is a sad day for New Jersey and I believe it’s in the best interest of our state that Senator Menendez resign.
— Rep. Mikie Sherrill (@RepSherrill) September 22, 2023
While Mr Menendez stepped down from his role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee following the news, he is digging in on his Senate seat.
“It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere,” Mr Menendez said on Friday.
In a separate statement, he maintained his innocence and accused the investigation of being an “active smear campaign… to create an air of impropriety where none exists”.
This is a sad day for our great state. The senator deserves his day in court. But given the gravity of these charges I do not believe that Senator Menendez can continue to carry out the important duties of his office for our state.
— Bill Pascrell, Jr. 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@BillPascrell) September 22, 2023
Prosecutors allege that Mr Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, received gifts including gold bullion bars, a convertible and wads of cash from businessmen Fred Daibes, Wael Hana and Jose Uribe in exchange for increasing US assistance to Egypt and influencing criminal investigations involving the businessmen.
According to the indictment, Ms Menendez acted as a middle-man between her husband and Mr Hana, who is closely connected to leaders in Egypt.
The indictment alleges that federal prosecutors seized gold bars worth $100,000 and other valuables from the Menendez home.
Both Mr Menendez and his wife are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
Mr Daibes, Mr Hana and Mr Uribe also face charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
This is the second time Mr Menendez has been federally charged with conspiracy and bribery.
In 2015, prosecutors alleged Mr Menendez accepted expensive gifts, including political contributions, in exchange for favours.
The 2017 trial ended in a hung jury. A federal judge later acquitted the New Jersey senator on charges and the Department of Justice dropped the rest.