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Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey maintains innocence in charges of bribery, fraud and extortion

NEW YORK (WABC) — After a federal grand jury in New York returned an indictment on Friday, prompting calls for his resignation, United States Sen. Bob Menendez made his first public comments Monday.

Menendez, of New Jersey, defiantly pushed back against federal corruption charges and the erosion of Democratic support in his home state, saying cash authorities found in his home was from his savings account and on hand for emergencies.

He said that he believed he’d be exonerated and that prosecutors sometimes get the facts wrong.

“I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be the New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez said.

Addressing allegations in the indictment unsealed Friday that authorities found cash stuffed in envelopes and clothing at his home, Menendez said the funds were draw from his personal savings account and stemmed his parents fear of confiscation of funds from their time in Cuba.

In Washington, where the U.S. Senate is closely divided, some of Menendez’s Democratic colleagues have stopped short of calling for his resignation, notably Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and Majority Whip Dick Durbin, of Illinois.

Menendez has, however, stepped down as chairman of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Schumer said on Friday, when the indictment was unsealed.

Menendez made his first public comments on the matter in Hudson County, where he grew up and launched his political career.

The sweeping indictment accuses Menendez and his wife Nadine with taking bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car for a range of corrupt acts, including having the Democrat use his influence over foreign affairs to benefit the authoritarian government of Egypt.

This is the second time he has been indicted, making him the only senator ever to do so.

A 2015 case against him ended in a mistrial after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges. In that case, Menendez was accused of accepting lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor.

Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey announced on Saturday that he will run against Menendez in the state’s Democratic primary for Senate next year, saying he feels compelled to run against the three-term senator after he and his wife were indicted.

Kim’s surprise announcement came as a growing number of Democrats are calling for Menendez to step down. Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman became the first Democratic senator to do so, and several members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, along with the state’s Democratic governor, have said he should resign.

“The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system. Under our legal system, Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges, and we must respect the process. However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”

RELATED | New Jersey’s top Democrats are simultaneously calling for the senator to resign

In simultaneous statements, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, state Senate President Nick Scutari and New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones all called for the Menendez’s resignation.

The senator was swift in his initial response, stating “I am not going anywhere.”

“Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty,” he said. “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. I am not going anywhere.”

Authorities who searched Menendez’s home last year found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars, as well as over $480,000 in cash – much of it hidden in closets, clothing and a safe, prosecutors say. The indictment includes photos of cash stuffed in envelopes in jackets bearing Menendez’s name and of a luxury car that prosecutors say was given to the couple as a bribe from the businessmen.

Prosecutors say Menendez directly interfered in criminal investigations, including by pushing to install a federal prosecutor in New Jersey he believed could be influenced in a criminal case against a businessman and associate of the senator. He also tried to use his position of power to try to meddle in a separate criminal investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, the indictment says.

Other accusations include repeated actions by Menendez to benefit Egypt despite U.S. government misgivings over the country’s human rights record that in recent years have prompted Congress to attach restrictions on aid. His efforts include ghostwriting a letter to fellow senators encouraging them to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt, one of the top recipients of U.S. government support, as well as transmitting nonpublic information to Egyptian officials through communications with the businessmen.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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https://abc7ny.com/bob-menendez-indictment-us-senator-indicted/13826864/ Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey maintains innocence in charges of bribery, fraud and extortion

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