US Senator Bob Menendez has pleaded not guilty to charges of taking bribes from three New Jersey businessmen. Prosecutors accused the senator and his wife of accepting gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for using his influence to aid Egypt’s government and interfere with law enforcement investigations of the businessmen. Menendez’s plea came as calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats escalated, with over half of all US Democratic senators urging him to step down. Menendez has vowed to fight the charges and will remain in the Senate.
At a hearing before the US Magistrate Judge Ona Wang in Manhattan, Menendez entered his plea through his lawyer. He was granted a $100,000 personal recognizance bond and will be required to surrender his personal passport but can retain his official passport for official business travel. Menendez, his wife, and the two businessmen all pleaded not guilty to the charges. Menendez stepped down from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as required by his party’s rules, but stated that he will stay in the Senate and fight the charges. Democratic senators, including Cory Booker and Dick Durbin, have joined the calls for him to resign, putting pressure on the senator to step down.
Prosecutors have alleged that Menendez accepted bribes in exchange for using his position to aid Egypt’s government and interfere with law enforcement investigations. Images of gold bars and cash seized from Menendez’s home were included in the indictment. This is not the first time Menendez has faced investigation by federal prosecutors, although he has never been convicted. Menendez’s continued presence in the Senate will be a challenge for his party, as Democratic senators are urging him to resign. If he steps aside, the Democratic Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, would appoint a temporary replacement.