Updated Jan 10, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Indicted Menendez rails against prosecutors on Senate floor

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) during a Senate committee hearing in December 2023.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) during a Senate committee hearing in December 2023. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) took to the Senate floor on Tuesday and criticized federal prosecutors after he was hit with a superseding federal indictment last week alleging that he took bribes in exchange for helping the government of Qatar.

Why it matters: Menendez, the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, has faced immense pressure from the public and lawmakers, including fellow Senate Democrats, to resign over the allegations.

  • Menendez was initially indicted on bribery charges in September, being accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for protecting and helping to enrich three New Jersey businessmen.
  • He then received a second charge in the case for allegedly conspiring to act as a foreign agent on behalf of Egypt by taking actions on behalf of military and intelligence officials from the country.
  • That charge was followed by the Qatari-related indictment, which alleged the senator had accepted cash and gold bars from a New Jersey real estate developer in exchange for helping him to secure an investment from a company tied to the Qatari government.

What they're saying: In a floor speech Tuesday, Menendez defended his actions, claiming he was being indicted for things many senators do during legislative and diplomatic processes.

  • "The suggestion that an introduction of a constituent to a Qatari investment company is illegal is not only wrong as a matter of law, it is dangerous to the important work all of us as senators do," Menendez said.
  • "Under the government's theory, it may be a crime for members of the senate to make introductions to companies and constituents in their own state, to foster investment in their state," he claimed.

Yes, but: In the most recent indictment, federal prosecutors did not allege he violated the law by making an introduction between a New Jersey real estate developer and the Qatari government.

  • They alleged he violated the law by helping steer investments to the developer and then accepting cash, gold bars and other gifts as rewards for doing so.

Of note: A Qatari official told Axios' Barak Ravid that some media reports had incorrectly described this as an accusation that Qatar was involved in a bribery scheme, but no Qatari person or entity is accused of any wrongdoing.

  • There is no accusation that Qatar solicited or was promised anything in exchange for the private real estate investment and nothing was promised to the Senator by anyone from Qatar, the official said.
  • The latest charges referring to Menendez making public statements supporting Qatar's government were not solicited by Qatar and while not described, they probably relate to comments about Qatar's assistance with the Afghan civilian evacuation after August 2021, when the Persian Gulf state received many assistance requests, according to the official.
  • The official said the charges refer to text messages between Menendez and a constituent about "luxury wristwatches," but there is no accusation that anyone gave or received these. No one from Qatar offered or made such a gift to Menendez or anyone associated with him, the official added.

Between the lines: Typically, defendants are advised by lawyers to not comment publicly about indictments against them, and charged lawmakers rarely speak about the charges they are facing.

The big picture: Menendez has pleaded not guilty to the bribery and foreign agent charges.

  • This is the second time the powerful New Jersey Democrat has faced federal corruption-related charges in the last decade.

Go deeper: Democrat Bob Menendez finds unlikely defenders in the GOP

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from a Qatari official.

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