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Menendez steps down temporarily as U.S. Senate committee chairman amid federal charges

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez will temporarily step aside as chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee following a federal indictment for conspiracy to commit bribery and other charges.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made the announcement Friday afternoon, saying in a written statement that “Senator Menendez has rightly decided to step down temporarily from his position as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee until the matter has been resolved.”

“Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey. He has a right to due process and a fair trial,” Schumer said.

Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, who is next in line to chair the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that he encourages “everyone to allow the legal process to move forward without prejudice.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.j.) was indicted Friday on federal corruption charges. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.

“Senator Bob Menendez entered the U.S. Senate only one year ahead of me,” Cardin said. “We served in the House of Representatives together for nearly a decade. He has left his mark on American diplomacy and national security as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and, especially, as Chair.”

“Senator Menendez has a right to respond aggressively in court to the current charges, and I am confident that he will do so,” Cardin added. Cardin announced in May he will retire at the end of his current term in 2024; New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is the next Democrat in line on the committee.

Cardin, who is chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business, also served as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel in 2017, when Menendez was on trial in a previous corruption scandal. The New Jersey Democrat was acquitted in that case.

Federal prosecutors indicted Menendez on Friday with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right. His wife, Nadine Menendez, was also charged with federal crimes.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York said that “between 2018 and 2022, Senator Menendez and his wife engaged in a corrupt relationship with Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes — three New Jersey businessmen who collectively paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes, including cash, gold, a Mercedes-Benz and other things of value – in exchange for Senator Menendez agreeing to use his power and influence to protect and enrich those businessmen and to benefit the Government of Egypt.”

The 39-page indictment included photographs of thousands of dollars in cash stuffed into clothing as well as gold bars.

Menendez defended himself against the charges in a written statement, saying the “excesses of these prosecutors is apparent.”

“They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office,” Menendez said. “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.”


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Menendez steps down temporarily as U.S. Senate committee chairman amid federal charges