Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) announced his bid for reelection on Monday, defying calls to resign from office in the wake of a three-count indictment for bribery.
Menendez vowed to stay in office and to fight charges that he accepted bribes from three New Jersey businessmen. "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," he said at a press conference.
Menendez’s defiance is certain to cause a political headache for Democrats, who face an uphill battle next year to maintain control of the Senate. The senator is likely to face a tough primary campaign as prominent state Democrats seized on his indictment to launch campaigns over the weekend. Rep. Andy Kim (D., N.J.) on Saturday launched a Senate bid, saying "we cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our integrity."
According to federal prosecutors, Menendez engaged in a brazen scheme involving his wife, Nadine Arslanian, and three New Jersey businessmen. Menendez allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz, and an apartment in exchange for political favors. Federal agents found hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold bars at Menendez’s home, and nearly $500,000 in cash stuffed in his clothing, closets, and a safe.
Menendez allegedly provided information to Egyptian intelligence officers in exchange for bribes from one of his co-defendants, Wael Hana. And he allegedly pressured the U.S. attorney for New Jersey regarding a federal investigation into another co-defendant, Fred Daibes.
Menendez claimed Monday the cash found at his house can be explained by a series of withdrawals he has made from savings over the past 30 years. He claimed he hoarded the cash "for emergencies" and cited "the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba."
Menendez has a strong financial incentive to remain in office and on the campaign trail. He hired high-power Washington attorney Abbe Lowell, who also represents Hunter Biden in his tax evasion case. Menendez relied heavily on his political connections to help fund his legal defense in a 2015 bribery indictment. Menendez was indicted on charges that he provided political favors to Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in exchange for vacations and other gifts. Federal prosecutors dropped the case in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict.
Billionaire Democratic mega donor Marc Lasry contributed $10,000 to the legal fund. Philip Sellinger, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, contributed $40,000. Sen. Cory Booker’s (D., N.J.) political action committee also contributed $40,000 to Menendez’s cause. Booker expressed support for Menendez in the wake of the latest indictment.
Menendez's decision to stay in the race could expand the Senate map for Republicans should the party field a competitive candidate. While New Jersey is considered Democratic territory, the state's liberal governor, Phil Murphy, secured reelection by just 3 points in 2021 after cruising to a 15-point win in 2017.