FILE - Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaks during Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the budget request for the State Department for fiscal year 2024, on Capitol Hill, March 22, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
WASHINGTON — Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey announced on Saturday that he will run against Sen. Robert 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 on sweeping corruption charges.
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.
“This is not something I expected to do, but I believe New Jersey deserves better,” Kim said in a statement. “We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our country’s integrity. I believe it’s time we restore faith in our democracy, and that’s why I am stepping up and running for Senate.”
The calls for Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, come after he and his wife Nadine were indicted on Friday for using his powerful position to aid the authoritarian government of Egypt and also to pressure federal prosecutors to drop a case against a friend. The three-count indictment lists a series of bribes they were paid by three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for the corrupt acts — gold bars, a luxury car and cash.
It is the second indictment on bribery charges for Menendez — and the second time he has had to relinquish his post as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel. He regained the leadership spot in 2018 after the case ended with a deadlocked jury.
The immediate calls for his resignation are a contrast from when he was first charged eight years ago, signaling that he could be in deep trouble with his party, and with his voters, as his 2024 reelection approaches.
Menendez was defiant after Friday’s indictment, saying in a statement Friday evening that “I am not going anywhere.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that Menendez would have to step down as chairman per Senate Democratic caucus rules, since he has been charged with a felony. But he did not call for Menendez to step down.
In a statement on Saturday, Fetterman became the first Senate Democrat to do so, saying that his Senate colleague is “entitled to the presumption of innocence under our system, but he is not entitled to continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations. I hope he chooses an honorable exit and focuses on his trial.”
Several Democrats in New Jersey’s House delegation also called on Menendez to go, including Reps. Donald Norcross, Josh Gottheimer, Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Mikie Sherrill and Bonnie Watson Coleman.
“This is a sad day for our great state,” said Pascrell, a senior member of the House who has served in the New Jersey delegation with Menendez for almost three decades. “The hallmark of our justice system is the presumption of innocence and the senator deserves his day in court. But given the gravity of these charges, I do not believe that Senator Menendez can continue to carry out the important duties of his office for our state.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also demanded Menendez’s immediate resignation, saying the allegations were “so serious” that they compromise the senator’s ability to serve.
Two notable New Jersey Democrats who have not called on Menendez to step down: Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, his New Jersey colleague in the Senate, and his son, Rep. Rob Menendez, who said in a statement that he has “unwavering confidence” in his father.
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.
Menendez responded that there was an “active smear campaign” against him.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” he said in a statement.
David Schertler, a lawyer for Menendez’s wife, Nadine, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”
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