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Bob Menendez

Menendez defiant after calls for resignation

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is expected to hold a press conference later today in which he’ll remain defiant in the face of calls for his resignation following his indictment — again — on bribery and corruption charges.

The 69-year-old Menendez may even announce he’ll run again in 2024, something that Garden State Democrats dread with state legislative elections less than two months away.

Menendez’s main argument in the wake of Friday’s stunning federal indictment is that he’s being targeted — by both federal prosecutors and lawmakers pushing him to resign — because he’s a prominent Latino. Menendez has long called himself “the high-hest-ranking Latino in the U.S. Congress.” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), the number three House Democrat, now has that title.

In a statement Friday responding to the calls for his resignation, Menendez said in part: “It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat.”

But Latino Democrats have been glaringly silent on Menendez’s indictment, refusing to back him up on that argument. We couldn’t find one member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus beyond Rep. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senator’s son, who’s backing the elder Menendez.

According to one senior Latino lawmaker, many don’t feel the urgency to defend Menendez given the egregiousness of the charges. The indictment, for example, includes photos of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash stuffed in envelopes and clothes, as well as gold bars allegedly given to Menendez and his wife by three businessmen seeking his help.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has called on Menendez to step down and pushed back on his claim of being targeted based on his ethnicity.

“As a Latina, there are absolutely ways in which there is systemic bias. But I think what is here in this indictment is quite clear,” Ocasio-Cortez said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on Menendez’s claim. Menendez, his wife Nadine and three co-defendants will be arraigned on Wednesday.

Several prominent New Jersey pols, including Gov. Phil Murphy, leaders of the state legislature, the New Jersey Democratic party chair and nearly all of the New Jersey Democratic House delegation have said Menendez should step down.

Democratic Senate candidates are on the “Menendez should resign” bandwagon, too. California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, both of whom are running for Senate, have urged Menendez to step down, as has Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.).

But just one Democratic senator has called on Menendez to resign at this point — Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said on Sunday that the charges are serious and emphasized the presumption of innocence. Durbin, however, said Menendez should make that decision on his own.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who testified as a character witness in Menendez’s first bribery trial, has been silent.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement Friday praised Menendez as “a dedicated public servant” and said the longtime senator had “rightly decided” to step aside as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez has retained top criminal defense lawyer Abbe Lowell, who is currently representing Hunter Biden, according to Law360. Lowell helped successfully defend Menendez during the 2015 bribery case.

If Menendez does run again, he has $7.8 million in his campaign account as of June 30. While he can use campaign funds to pay his attorney fees — which are liable to be pretty steep — Menendez has also set up a legal-defense fund to help defray those costs. Menendez raised millions of dollars to help cover the cost of his first case, arguing that the Obama administration was targeting him over his opposition to the Iran nuclear accord.

— Andrew Desiderio, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan

 

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