Bob Menendez refuses to quit and says $480,000 in cash was for personal use

New Jersey senator strikes defiant tone to reporters and accuses some of ‘rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat’

Insisting he would not resign after being indicted on corruption charges, the embattled New Jersey Democratic senator Bob Menendez told reporters that $480,000 in cash found in a safe, clothing and closets at his home was kept there for emergency personal use.

“For 30 years,” Menendez said, “I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings accounts, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.”

The senator’s parents are from Cuba though he was born in New York. Last week, he said: “It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat.” In Union City, New Jersey, on Monday, Menendez spoke in English and in Spanish. A group of people he said were “everyday people and constituents who know me” stood behind him as he spoke.

The senator continued: “Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings accounts based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years. I look forward to addressing other issues in trial.”

Under an indictment unsealed last week, Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, 56, were accused of using his seat in the Senate, as chair of the foreign relations committee, to benefit the government of Egypt.

Prosecutors described how the large sums of cash were found at Menendez’s New Jersey home, as well as actual gold bars. A Mercedes-Benz car is also at issue. Three businessmen have also been charged.

In his remarks on Monday, Menendez did not mention the gold bars. Nor did he respond to reporters’ questions. His wife did not attend.

Menendez beat a previous corruption investigation. Ending in 2018, a five-year examination of the senator’s relationship with a Florida eye doctor began with unsubstantiated allegations about consorting with prostitutes and resulted in a bribery indictment. Menendez denied wrongdoing. After a jury failed to reach a verdict, the investigation was dropped.

Since the new indictment was unveiled, leading Democrats including the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, and the New York progressive representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called for Menendez to resign.

But in the Senate, only John Fetterman of Pennsylvania had called for his colleague to quit by the time Menendez stepped out to face reporters on Monday.

“Everything I’ve accomplished, I’ve worked for despite the naysayers and everyone who has underestimated me,” said Menendez, 69.

“I recognise this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator.”

To those who have called for his resignation, he said: “The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system.

“Those who rushed to judgment, you have done so based on a limited set of facts framed by the prosecution to be as salacious as possible. Remember, prosecutors get it wrong.”

On social media, Fetterman seemed to dismiss Menendez’s claim to have kept so much cash for emergency use.

“We have an extra flashlight for our home emergencies,” Fetterman said.


Martin Pengelly in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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