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One of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the US Senate was indicted on Friday on federal bribery and extortion charges, with prosecutors alleging that he used his office to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash, gold bars, and a Mercedes convertible.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his wife Nadine were indicted in the Southern District of New York on three federal counts related to a series of alleged business and political schemes to enrich the businesses of three other co-defendants and to benefit the government of Egypt.

Speaking at a press conference to announce the indictment, US Attorney for the Southern District Damian Williams said that Menendez’s own website makes it clear that he was providing services far beyond the ethical and legal limits of what a senator is allowed.

“There are things that Senator Menendez says he can do for his constituents and things that he says he cannot do for his constituents. He put it all on the Senate website,” Williams said. “So, for instance, it says he cannot compel an agency to act in someone’s favor. It says he cannot influence matters involving a private business. It says he cannot get involved in criminal matters or cases, period. But we allege that behind the scenes, Senator Menendez was doing those things for certain people: the people who were bribing him and his wife.”

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September 22, 2023 1:42 pm

The indictment unsealed on Friday says that in 2022 the FBI executed a search warrant at Menendez’s home and at his wife’s safe deposit box where they found more than half a million dollars in cash, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe.” The document includes photographs of thousands of dollars found in a pair of jackets embroidered with the senator’s name, as well as gold bars that were given to Menendez by his alleged co-conspirators.

Prosecutors allege that Menendez received the bribes in exchange for helping a New Jersey-based halal meat certification company to influence the US and Egyptian governments in his role as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They also claim that he and his wife acted secretly to assist the Egyptian government, including by ghost-writing a letter for an Egyptian official urging the Senate to release $300 million in military aid and by passing along sensitive US government information about the nationality of employees at the US embassy in Cairo.

According to the indictment, after returning from one trip to Egypt in 2021, Menendez performed a web search asking, “How much is one kilo of gold worth?”

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez has been one of the staunchest supporters of Israel in Congress. In 2015, he was one of just four Democratic senators to vote against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the official name for the Iran nuclear deal — which placed temporary curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Menendez is also one of a handful of Democrats whom the Biden administration has kept personally apprised of ongoing negotiations to secure a diplomatic normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“My name is Bob Menendez, and anyone who knows me knows three things,” Menendez said in a 2015 address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). “I believe it is in the national security and interest of the United States to have a strong unwavering relationship with the State of Israel. I have always stood for the Israeli people’s right to defend themselves and live in peace in the land of their ancestors. And, when it comes to defending the US-Israel relationship, I am not intimidated by anyone — not Israel’s political enemies, and not by my political friends when I believe they’re wrong.”

Menendez was previously indicted on bribery charges in 2015, but those charges were eventually dropped after a mistrial and partial acquittal in 2018.

In a statement on Friday, Menendez firmly denied the allegations, saying that they were the product of a “smear campaign” orchestrated by “forces behind the scenes.”

“I have been falsely accused before because I refused to back down to the powers that be and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent,” Menendez said. “I have also stood steadfast against dictators around the globe — whether they be in Iran, Cuba, Turkey, or elsewhere — fighting against the forces of appeasement and standing with those who stand for freedom and democracy. I remain focused on continuing this important work and will not be distracted by baseless allegations.”

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