Senator Bob Menendez speaking
Senator Bob Menendez speaks at a July 2023 event in Bayonne (U.S. Senate photo)

A grow­ing num­ber of Sen­a­tor Bob Menen­dez’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues are call­ing on him to resign from office after being indict­ed for con­spir­a­cy to com­mit bribery, con­spir­a­cy to com­mit hon­est ser­vices fraud, and con­spir­a­cy to com­mit extor­tion under col­or of offi­cial right, includ­ing his seat­mate, New Jer­sey’s Cory Booker.

Menen­dez was indict­ed on those three charges last week in the South­ern Dis­trict of New York (SDNY) by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, rep­re­sent­ed by Unit­ed States Attor­ney Dami­an Williams, oblig­at­ing Menen­dez to sur­ren­der the chair­man­ship of the Sen­ate For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee, as Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus rules require. His wife and oth­er co-con­spir­a­tors are also fac­ing charges.

The indict­ment alleges:

ROBERT MENENDEZ, the defen­dant, is the senior U.S. Sen­a­tor from the State of New Jer­sey. From at least 2018 up to and includ­ing in or about 2022, MENENDEZ and his wife, NADINE MENENDEZ, a/k/a Nadine Arslan­ian the defen­dant, engaged in a cor­rupt rela­tion­ship with three New Jer­sey asso­ciates and busi­ness­men — WAEL HANA, a/k/a Will Hana JOSE URIBE, and FRED DAIBES, the defen­dants — in which MENENDEZ and NADINE MENENDEZ agreed to and did accept hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars of bribes in exchange for using MENEN­DEZ’s pow­er and influ­ence as a Sen­a­tor to seek to pro­tect and enrich HANA, URIBE, and DAIBES and to ben­e­fit the Arab Repub­lic of Egypt. Those bribes includ­ed cash, gold, pay­ments toward a home mort­gage, com­pen­sa­tion for a low-or-no-show job, a lux­u­ry vehi­cle, and oth­er things of value.

The thir­ty-nine page indict­ment describes the DOJ’s evi­dence and the inves­ti­ga­tion into Menen­dez in sig­nif­i­cant detail; it is worth read­ing.

Menen­dez has respond­ed defi­ant­ly, assert­ing that he did noth­ing wrong, but not actu­al­ly refut­ing any of the charges. Ini­tial­ly, he declared that unnamed per­sons and enti­ties were tar­get­ing him; with­in the past forty-eight hours, he has tried to explain why fed­er­al author­i­ties found over $480,000 in cash in his home, incred­u­lous­ly argu­ing that he with­drew large sums out of his savings.

“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeat­ed­ly attempt­ed to silence my voice and dig my polit­i­cal grave,” Menen­dez said in a state­ment about the indict­ment, which inter­est­ing­ly has not been post­ed to his Sen­ate web­site, nor shared on social plat­forms. “Since this inves­ti­ga­tion was leaked near­ly a year ago, there has been an active smear cam­paign of anony­mous sources and innu­en­dos to cre­ate an air of impro­pri­ety where none exists.”

He went on to say: “I have been false­ly accused before because I refused to back down to the pow­ers that be and the peo­ple of New Jer­sey were able to see through the smoke and mir­rors and rec­og­nize I was innocent.”

It’s odd that Menen­dez is com­plain­ing about “innu­en­dos” and an “air of impro­pri­ety” giv­en that he is no longer fac­ing rumors, but an actu­al indict­ment. The charges are seri­ous, and while he does enjoy the pre­sump­tion of inno­cence, the nature of the charges makes it impos­si­ble for him to faith­ful­ly and effec­tive­ly serve the peo­ple of New Jer­sey as a Unit­ed States Senator.

It’s impor­tant to note that a few years ago, the Unit­ed States Supreme Court made it much more dif­fi­cult to con­vict a pub­lic offi­cial of bribery. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice has gone after Menen­dez before, and was­n’t able to land a con­vic­tion. It’s unlike­ly pros­e­cu­tors would be try­ing again unless they felt their evi­dence was very com­pelling and very strong. As Matt Ford wrote for The New Repub­lic:

“Cor­rup­tion, in the jus­tices’ eyes, is when a rail­road tycoon hands a politi­cian a burlap sack with a big dol­lar sign on it. But that extra­or­di­nar­i­ly high hur­dle alleged­ly didn’t stop New Jer­sey Sen­a­tor Bob Menen­dez from leap­ing over it.”

“Pros­e­cu­tors went to great lengths this time not only to show how spe­cif­ic gifts and goods were tied to spe­cif­ic favors — Nadine Menendez’s per­sis­tence in tex­ting her asso­ciates for pay­ment helped tremen­dous­ly here—but also to show how Menen­dez used the for­mal and semi­for­mal pow­ers of his elect­ed posi­tion to car­ry out the scheme,” Ford added lat­er in his col­umn, cit­ing the indictment.

Menen­dez might feel that since he sur­vived the last round, he can do so again. But oth­er Democ­rats aren’t bet­ting on him (nor should they). The calls for his res­ig­na­tion are grow­ing, and they are com­ing from a lot of key fig­ures: Gov­er­nor Phil Mur­phy of New Jer­sey, New Jer­sey Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty Chair LeRoy Jones, and Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Andy Kim of New Jer­sey, who brave­ly decid­ed to be the change and run against Menen­dez in the 2024 Demo­c­ra­t­ic primary.

Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor John Fet­ter­man of Penn­syl­va­nia, who often speaks suc­cinct­ly and with great moral clar­i­ty, quick­ly became the first Sen­a­tor to call for Menen­dez to step down. He has now been joined by most of the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus, includ­ing Sen­a­tors Book­er, Mur­ray, and Cantwell.

Book­er said:

For near­ly a decade, I’ve worked in the Sen­ate along­side Sen­a­tor Menen­dez. As New Jersey’s junior Sen­a­tor, I imag­ine that I’ve had more pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ences with him than most oth­ers, and I’ve wit­nessed his extra­or­di­nary work and bound­less work ethic.

I’ve con­sis­tent­ly found Sen­a­tor Menen­dez to be intel­lec­tu­al­ly gift­ed, tough, pas­sion­ate, and deeply empath­ic. We have devel­oped a work­ing rela­tion­ship and a friend­ship that I val­ue and believe has fur­thered our effec­tive­ness in serv­ing New Jersey.

Sen­a­tor Menen­dez is again fac­ing a fed­er­al indict­ment, one that con­tains shock­ing alle­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion and spe­cif­ic, dis­turb­ing details of wrong­do­ing. I’ve found the alle­ga­tions hard to rec­on­cile with the per­son I know.

It is not sur­pris­ing to me that Sen­a­tor Menen­dez is again deter­mined to mount a vig­or­ous defense. And I still believe he, like any­one involved with our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, deserves our pre­sump­tion of inno­cence until proven guilty. A jury of his peers will make the ulti­mate deci­sion as to whether he is crim­i­nal­ly guilty.

There is, how­ev­er, anoth­er high­er stan­dard for pub­lic offi­cials, one not of crim­i­nal law but of com­mon ideals. As Sen­a­tors, we oper­ate in the pub­lic trust. That trust is essen­tial to our abil­i­ty to do our work and per­form our duties for our constituents.

The details of the alle­ga­tions against Sen­a­tor Menen­dez are of such a nature that the faith and trust of New Jer­seyans as well as those he must work with in order to be effec­tive have been shak­en to the core.

As Sen­a­tor Menen­dez pre­pares to mount his legal defense, he has stat­ed that he will not resign. Sen­a­tor Menen­dez fierce­ly asserts his inno­cence and it is there­fore under­stand­able that he believes step­ping down is patent­ly unfair. But I believe this is a mistake.

Step­ping down is not an admis­sion of guilt but an acknowl­edg­ment that hold­ing pub­lic office often demands tremen­dous sac­ri­fices at great per­son­al cost. Sen­a­tor Menen­dez has made these sac­ri­fices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe step­ping down is best for those Sen­a­tor Menen­dez has spent his life serving.

Mur­ray said:

The charges against Sen­a­tor Menen­dez are extreme­ly seri­ous and the details released are deeply dis­turb­ing — while Sen­a­tor Menen­dez is enti­tled to his day in court, I believe he should step down and focus on his legal defense. If Sen­a­tor Menen­dez refus­es to resign, I encour­age the Sen­ate Ethics Com­mit­tee to open an inves­ti­ga­tion into this, sep­a­rate from the ongo­ing crim­i­nal case.

Cantwell said:

I found the alle­ga­tions made in the indict­ment shock­ing and dis­turb­ing. While every­one deserves their day in court, con­stituents and the Sen­ate deserve the full atten­tion of their elect­ed Sen­a­tor. I don’t believe any­one under such a damn­ing indict­ment can effec­tive­ly serve, and I urge Sen­a­tor Menen­dez to step aside.

We at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute strong­ly agree that Bob Menen­dez should resign from the Unit­ed States Sen­ate with­out any fur­ther delay.

Menen­dez only rein­forced our grave con­cerns about his con­duct and lack of abil­i­ty to serve with his response, espe­cial­ly this line: “It is not lost on me how quick­ly some are rush­ing to judge a Lati­no and push him out of his seat.”

His seat, Menden­dez said, refer­ring to him­self in the third person.

Sen­a­tor Menen­dez, no one is enti­tled to a Sen­ate seat — they are posi­tions of pub­lic respon­si­bil­i­ty decid­ed on by vot­ers, not per­son­al pos­ses­sions or fam­i­ly heir­looms. As an elect­ed offi­cial entrust­ed with a lot of pow­er, you have an oblig­a­tion to behave eth­i­cal­ly and appro­pri­ate­ly at all times.

True lead­ers are role mod­els. They don’t use their posi­tions to enrich themselves.

You’ve for­feit­ed the trust of your con­stituents and your col­leagues through your alleged actions. Regard­less of whether these seri­ous charges are proven in court or not, their exis­tence makes it impos­si­ble for you to effec­tive­ly rep­re­sent the peo­ple of the Gar­den State. Please do the right thing for your­self, New Jer­sey, and the coun­try, and resign from office immediately.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts