Embattled Democratic senator Bob Menendez has rejected calls for him to resign, and insisted almost $500,000 discovered in cash at his home was money he kept to hand because his parents had grown up in Cuba and feared having their assets taken.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies, and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” he said in his first comments since charges were made public last Friday.
“Now this may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on the income that I have lawfully derived over those 30 years.”
The powerful 69 year-old has been obliged to give up his role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a regulation imposed on anyone facing a criminal charge. He would be able to return to that role if he is found not guilty.
Mr Menendez, the senior senator from New Jersey, whose parents moved to the US in the early 1950s, has rejected calls for him to stand down as member of the upper chamber.
Among Democrats making such a call were Pennsylvania senator John Fetterman and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy. So far, most of his colleagues in the Senate have said the criminal process should play out.
Mr Menendez, his wife and three business associates are accused of three crimes, including being on the receiving end of a bribery conspiracy.
The group is accused of working together to use Mr Menendez’s power as a senator to benefit them personally and to also benefit Egypt.
Prosecutors allege the bribes included gold, cash, home mortgage payments, and a luxury vehicle. When the indictment was unseated last week it contained images of gold bars said to have been found at his home.
On Monday, Mr Menendez insisted his record showed he had always taken a tough stance towards Egypt.
“If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent in holding Egypt accountable,” he said.
This is the second time he has been charged with federal offences. In 2015, a jury was unable to reach a verdict.
In his statement, he added: “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 will still be New Jersey’s senior senator.”
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