The ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, DN.J., for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
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John Fetterman of Pennsylvania on Saturday became the first Democratic US senator to call on Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey to resign in the face of a criminal bribery indictment that was unsealed Friday.
“He has the right to the presumption of innocence, but he cannot continue to have influence on national policy, especially if the serious and specific nature of the allegations,” Fetterman said on Saturday. “I hope he chooses an honorable exit and focuses on his trial.”
Fetterman’s statement joins a chorus of cries for the newly impeached Democratic senator to step down.
On Friday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, the speaker of the state General Assembly and the chairman of the Democratic State Committee called on Menendez to resign after their fellow Democrat was indicted.
“The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply troubling,” Murphy said of Menendez, the state’s senior senator.
“These are serious cases that involve national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Murphy said.
“The alleged facts are so serious that they have compromised Senator Menendez’s ability to effectively represent the people of our state. I therefore call on his immediate resignation.”
Speaker of the Assembly Craig Coughlin “The charges filed against Senator Menendez today are against everything we are supposed to believe as public servants.
“The public trusts us, and when that trust is broken, we cannot continue,” Coughlin said, adding that Menendez must resign to “allow New Jersey, and America, to move forward.”
Chairman of the Democratic State Committee LeRoy Jones, Jr. Menendez said he must step down “in the interest of ensuring that New Jerseyans continue to receive the federal representation they deserve.”
Jones also mentioned the upcoming state legislative election in November, and said Menendez’s resignation will allow the Democratic party to “maintain its focus” on state-level races.
New Jersey Democrats in Congress along with US Reps. Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill also called on Menendez to resign.
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, DN.J., and his wife, Nadine Arslanian, arrive for a reception for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his wife, Mareva Mitsotakis, in East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 16, 2022.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Menendez responded to his critics on Friday. “Those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty. I intend to continue to fight for the people of New Jersey with the same success I have had over the past five decades,” he said in a statement.
“It’s the same record of success that these same leaders have been touting. It’s not lost on me how quick some are to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I’m not going anywhere,” he added.
The statement hinted at how bitter the debate over the senator’s political future could become.
Despite Menendez’s defiance, calls for his resignation continued over the weekend.
Along with Fetterman, Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Donald Norcross on Saturday also urged Menendez to step down. Norcross is a longtime South Jersey congressman who has open supported Menendez in the past. His brother, George Norcross, is a former Democratic power broker in South Jersey with considerable influence who also helped raise funds for Menendez’s campaigns.
“Although the Senator has many accomplishments in his decades of public service, we cannot be distracted. For that reason, Senator Menendez must step aside to face these allegations,” said Rep. Donald Norcross in a statement.
Menendez, 69, and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were indicted on three criminal charges, along with three New Jersey businessmen who were indicted on two of the counts.
The couple is accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for at least four years, while the senator performed, in return, political favors for the three businessmen.
Prosecutors say the favors included providing sensitive national security information to Egyptian officials.
Menendez insisted that he and his wife had done nothing wrong, and accused prosecutors in a statement of “misrepresenting the normal work of a Congressional office.”
He did not address the specific charges other than to say the “facts are not as presented.”
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement, “Bob Menendez has been a dedicated public servant and has always fought hard for the people of New Jersey.”
Menendez was appointed to the Senate in 2005, but went on to win re-election himself three times, and will face voters again in 2024. Democrats have difficult map of the Senate next year, when they will defend 23 of the 33 contested seats in the Senate.
In states dominated by one political party, as New Jersey is by Democrats, Senate seats change hands less than in swing states, where elections tend to be more competitive. .
In New Jersey, for example, only four people have been elected to the US Senate in the past 23 years, the last being Sen. Cory Booker in 2013.
Should Menendez resign or retire when his current term ends, the race to fill his Senate seat will likely draw a who’s who of the state’s elected Democrats. Some of the top names that have been floated on Friday are Gottheimer, Kim, Norcross and Sherrill.
Kim on Saturday officially announced his senate campaign, noting that Menendez’s refusal to resign “forced” him to enter the race.
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin in a statement said late Friday afternoon, “The allegations are extremely troubling to me and my Office, and we are in the process of reviewing the concerns raised by the accusation.”
“As the unsealed indictment makes clear, there are allegations that Menendez attempted to pressure a senior member of this Office under the previous administration,” Platkin said.
“The conduct alleged in the indictment occurred prior to my tenure as Attorney General, and relates to a matter that was resolved prior to my tenure. My Office has fully cooperated with the investigation by the Southern District of New York. We will continue to do so. it . We are also engaged in our own independent internal inquiry into the allegations set forth in the indictment.”