Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) will temporarily step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as he faces federal corruption charges, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday.
“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 in a brief statement. “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.”
It’s not much of a concession by Menendez to hand over the committee gavel. It looks like he had no choice, given the rules of the Democratic Conference, which state:
“Any Member of the Conference who serves as chair or ranking member of a standing, select, special, or joint committee who is charged with a felony shall immediately step aside in favor of the next most senior eligible Democratic member of the committee in question, who shall serve as acting chair or ranking member.”
The New Jersey Democrat was indicted earlier Friday on charges of accepting bribes including $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in cash in exchange for official acts that aided an Egyptian American businessman.
Menendez has denied the allegations, saying in a statement that he is being prosecuted by people who “simply cannot accept that a first generation Latino-American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction.”
It’s the second time that Menendez has been indicted on corruption charges. In 2017, his trial ended with a deadlocked jury. He won reelection in 2018.