Sen. Robert “Bob” Menendez (D-N.J.), a longtime supporter of Israel and critic of the Iran nuclear deal, is facing widespread calls for his resignation following charges from the U.S. attorney’s office that he accepted bribes.
The Democrat “allegedly agreed to use his official position to benefit” three New Jersey businessmen “and the government of Egypt in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes to Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, which included gold bars, cash and a luxury convertible,” according to a release from the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.
When they searched the senator’s home last year, authorities 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,” reported the Associated Press.
“Photos in the indictment show cash that was stuffed in envelopes in jackets bearing Menendez’s name. Investigators also say they discovered a Google search by Menendez for the value of a ‘kilo of gold’ and DNA of one man prosecutors say bribed him on an envelope filled with thousands of dollars,” per the AP.
A 2015 trial, with other corruption charges against the senator, ended in a mistrial after a jury failed to reach a verdict.
On Sept. 22, Menendez stepped down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but said on Monday that he would remain in the Senate and fight the charges, which he has denied.
More than half of the Democratic caucus has called for him to resign.
“Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost,” stated Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving.”
The senior senator from New Jersey is among a handful of Democrats who opposed former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Last year, Menendez called on U.S. President Joe Biden “to exert more pressure on Iran to counter its nuclear program, its missile program and its dangerous behavior around the Middle East.”
Menendez’s strong support for Israel and willingness to oppose fellow Democrats who seek a nuclear deal with Iran has earned goodwill from some Jewish lawmakers across the aisle, according to Sam Markstein, national political director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
Still, the allegations that he abused his position are “deeply troubling,” Markstein said.
“In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and Senator Menendez will have his day in court,” Markstein told JNS. “It was appropriate that Sen. Menendez resigned from his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as the allegations clearly impacted his ability to serve in that capacity.”
No Senate Republican has yet called for Menendez’s resignation.
“The charges against Senator Menendez are serious and troubling. At the same time, the Department of Justice has a troubling record of failure and corruption in cases against public figures, from Ted Stevens to Bob McDonnell to Donald Trump to Bob Menendez the last time around,” wrote Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
“Senator Menendez has a right to test the government’s evidence in court, just like any other citizen,” Cotton added. “He should be judged by jurors and New Jersey’s voters, not by Democratic politicians who now view him as inconvenient to their hold on power.”
Gabriel Noronha, a fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America and former special adviser for the U.S. State Department’s Iran Action Group, told JNS that it is curious that the charges against Menendez are now being publicized.
Noronha, who is also executive director of Polaris National Security, doesn’t think that the timing suggests a political hit though told JNS that the Iranian nuclear negotiations will become further politicized should Menendez resign from the Senate.
“The Biden administration is trying to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran that verges on a treaty, which would only then be considered by the Senate for ratification,” he said. “Without Menendez, it will further the partisan divide on the subject of Iran.”
Len Khodorkovsky, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, agreed that the timing of the indictment is strange.
“I would not be surprised if the indictment is strategically timed, given both the Obama and Biden administration’s weaponization of government power,” he told JNS. “But if Menendez broke the law, he should suffer the consequences, regardless of his policy positions.”
Menendez’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal has helped make the prevention of a nuclear Iran a bipartisan issue, according to Khodorkovsky.
“It has made it awkward for the deal’s supporters to claim that criticism of the many flawed JCPOA provisions is partisan,” he said.