Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said Tuesday that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) should resign as he faces federal corruption charges.
“Stepping down is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost,” Booker said in a statement. “Senator Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving.”
Booker joins a growing number of Democratic senators calling on Menendez to resign after he was indicted Friday on bribery charges that include taking $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in cash in exchange for official acts to help an Egyptian American businessman and others.
Menendez has vowed to fight the charges and stay in the Senate, even as he’s had to step down as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. In a lengthy statement, Booker said his colleague’s decision to stay is a mistake even as he was clearly struggling with the news himself. It’s the second time in 10 years that Menendez has been indicted on corruption charges.
“Senator Menendez is again facing a federal indictment, one that contains shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing,” said Booker. “I’ve found the allegations hard to reconcile with the person I know.”
It’s a striking turnaround for Booker, who was one of his New Jersey colleague’s staunchest defenders in response to his 2015 indictment on unrelated corruption charges. That case resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury.
“Bob is my friend. There’s no senator I’ve worked more closely with. He is an extraordinary senator. I’ve seen him in the most intimate moments and didn’t see a hint of corruption,” Booker told HuffPost in 2019. “I will stand by Bob Menendez.”
As Booker and others have noted, the allegations against Menendez are damning. Prosecutors said Menendez and his wife conspired with three businessmen in their home state to influence U.S. policy in exchange for bribes. The FBI found stacks of cash in the Menendez household during a search last year.
Menendez allegedly gave one of the businessmen sensitive information about American embassy personnel that the man then shared with officials in the Egyptian government. Another part of the indictment says Menendez ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of Egypt pleading for military aid, which was sent to his Senate colleagues. Authorities also say Menendez tried to interfere with a federal prosecution against one of his alleged co-conspirators.
In a defiant press conference on Monday, Menendez said he had withdrawn the cash from his own savings account and hidden it in his house for emergencies, and because of his parents’ experience as victims of government confiscation before they fled Cuba in the early 1950s.
Menendez did not take questions or acknowledge the government’s claim that investigators found DNA and fingerprints from his alleged accomplices on the envelopes.