Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is being urged to step down by members of his own party following his indictment on federal corruption charges.
Menendez, 69, was indicted on felony charges of bribery, fraud and extortion on Friday. Prosecutors allege that Menendez and his wife took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for his power and influence being used to benefit three New Jersey businessmen and the interests of Egypt.
A growing chorus of prominent Democrats, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, are calling on the senator to immediately resign from the Senate due to the nature of the charges.
Menendez rejected the calls to resign in a statement emailed to Newsweek on Friday night, insisting that he is “not going anywhere.”
“Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty,” Menendez 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,” he continued. “I am not going anywhere.”
Menendez did temporarily step down from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier on Friday. However, under Democratic Senate rules, the indictment would have forced Menendez out of the committee chair regardless of his wishes.
Murphy and other top Democrats from the Garden State have argued that the allegations against Menendez are so serious that he will not be able to effectively do his job. The governor called the allegations “deeply disturbing.”
“These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Murphy said in a statement. “Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges.”
“However, the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state,” he added. “Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
New Jersey Democratic Party Chair LeRoy J. Jones, Jr., has also called for the senator to resign, saying in a statement that doing so would be “in the interest of ensuring that New Jerseyans continue to be granted the federal representation that they deserve” and allow for Menendez to “focus his full attention on his legal defense.”
U.S. Representative Andy Kim of New Jersey called the allegations “serious and alarming” while urging Menendez to step down in his own statement, questioning the senator’s “ability to properly focus” on his job amid the legal fight.
Other prominent New Jersey Democrats who have called for the resignation of Menendez include state General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, State Senate President Nicholas Scutari, Middlesex County Democratic Party Chairman Kevin McCabe and Bergen County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Juliano.
Menendez has faced allegations of corruption for many years. He was previously indicted in 2015, having been accused of conspiracy and bribery-related crimes. Charges against the senator were dropped after his trial ended in a hung jury in 2017.
The senator referenced his previous charges in a statement obtained by Newsweek earlier on Friday, while saying that the new indictment was part of “an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.”
“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,” he said. “I am confident that this matter will be successfully resolved once all of the facts are presented and my fellow New Jerseyans will see this for what it is.”
The hypothetical resignation of Menendez would at least temporarily complicate an already loose grip on the Senate by Democrats, although Murphy would almost certainly appoint another Democrat as his interim replacement in short order.
Menendez’s Senate seat will be contested in next year’s election, when Democrats will face a difficult road to retain control of the chamber. Menendez has not officially announced his candidacy for 2024.