Sen. Robert Menendez was charged Friday with using his power to help three men and the Egyptian government in exchange for bribes. Prosecutors say the New Jersey Democrat and his wife took hundreds of thousands of dollars via gold bars, mortgage payments, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, and cash that investigators found hidden in envelopes inside jackets bearing the senator’s name.
But what’s particularly striking about this indictment—besides the sheer brazenness of the alleged bribery—is that this is the second time Menendez has faced corruption charges in less than a decade. In 2015, he was charged with using his office to do favors for a Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, who lavished Menendez with luxury items and free travel. Menendez, who claimed he and Melgen were simply friends who exchanged gifts, avoided conviction after a hung jury caused a mistrial in 2017. Melgen was convicted of Medicare fraud in 2017, but President Donald Trump commuted his 17-year prison sentence.
In 2018, the Senate Ethics Committee admonished Menendez, noting that despite the mistrial, Menendez had admitted to taking official actions to help Melgen while accepting gifts from him that the senator failed to disclose “as required by Senate Rules and federal law.” The committee said that Menendez’s actions “reflected discredit upon the Senate.”
The new charges suggest that the unusually sharp condemnation from his colleagues did not cause Menendez to cease ethically questionable, if not illegal, conduct. And Senate Democrats did nothing to stop him. Menendez’s 2018 reelection to a third Senate term, and an agreement by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats to allow Menendez to return to a top spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—he became chairman when his party took control of the chamber in 2021—gave Menendez the power that the Justice Department now alleges he used corruptly.
Menendez and his wife denied the allegations Friday. The senator appears set to make arguments similar to those that he offered in 2015.
“The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent,” Menendez said in a lengthy statement. “They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office. On top of that, not content with making false claims against me, they have attacked my wife for the longstanding friendships she had before she and I even met.”
“They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented,” he said. “Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor’s version.”
Menendez also said: “Those behind this campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction.”
With Senate control up for grabs in 2024, Menendez is likely to face pressure to resign and Democratic leaders, including Schumer and President Joe Biden, will have to decide whether to back him if he does not. If Menendez steps down before the end of his term, New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, could appoint a successor.
Menendez is accused of extraordinary efforts to help people who allegedly lavished gifts and money on him and his wife, Nadine Menendez, who he married in 2020. Three men accused of bribing the senator—Fred Daibes, Will Hana, and Jose Uribe—were also charged.
Prosecutors say that Menendez secretly aided the Egyptian government, including by providing it with sensitive US government information. According to the indictment, after Menendez began dating Nadine, she and Hana—a New Jersey businessman she’d known previously—“worked to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials to” the senator “for the purpose of establishing and solidifying a corrupt agreement in which Hana” and others “provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes to [the couple], in exchange for” Menendez’s efforts to help the Egyptian government.
Menendez did that, the indictment says, in part by supporting US arms sales to Egypt, despite objections by some policymakers to the autocratic government and poor human rights record of Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi.
Prosecutors say that in 2018, Menendez told Hana he was about to sign off on the US providing military aid to Egypt. Hana allegedly passed the information on to an Egyptian government official. The DOJ also says Menendez gave Egypt, through Hana, sensitive details on people working for the US embassy in Cairo. Menendez also allegedly helped an Egyptian official lobby the Senate to drop objections to sending $300 million in aid to Egypt.
As part of the scheme, Menendez allegedly used his office to help Hana protect a monopoly on certifying US-produced halal meat exports to Egypt as compliant with Islamic standards. Hana, despite having no experience in halal certification, got the monopoly under murky circumstances in 2019. When the US Department of Agriculture objected to the arrangement, which prosecutors say drove up prices for some US meat suppliers, Menendez allegedly pressured a high-level USDA official in an unsuccessful effort to get that agency to drop its objection. Hana paid for this help, prosecutors say, by giving Nadine Menendez a no-show job at his company, helping her make mortgage payments, and other means.
Menendez is also accused of attempting to use his influence to interfere in a state-level investigation into an employee of Uribe’s in “exchange for a Mercedes-Benz convertible” that Uribe bought for Nadine Menendez.
Senator Menendez is also accused of attempting to corruptly influence the Justice Department. He allegedly tried to help Daibes, a New Jersey real estate developer who was hit with federal bank fraud charges in 2018, by urging Biden to nominate a US attorney candidate, Philip Sellinger, that Menendez thought he could influence. Daibes, prosecutors allege, paid Menendez for his help by funneling cash and gifts to Nadine Menendez. Menendez’s efforts didn’t work. Biden did nominate Sellinger, but Sellinger ultimately recused himself from that case, and Daibes eventually pleaded guilty.
The new indictment was announced by Damien Williams, the US attorney in nearby Manhattan. “Fortunately, the public officials the senator sought to influence did not bend to the pressure,” Williams said Friday.