Four Key Points From the Colorful Indictment of Senator Menendez

From a Washington Post analysis by Aaron Blake headlined “4 key points from Bob Menendez’s colorful indictment”:

Not since $90,000 in cash was found stashed in Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) freezer have we seen an indictment of a member of Congress like this.

The Justice Department announced Friday that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been indicted on federal corruption charges.

The extensive indictment features allegations of taking bribes in exchange for assisting the interests of the government of Egypt and for his intervention in criminal matters. Menendez’s wife, Nadine, is described as playing a crucial role in the schemes. She is indicted alongside three others who allegedly bribed her and Menendez.

The indictment refers to seizures of more than $500,000 in cash and more than a dozen gold bars during a June 2022 search of the Menendez home. It also describes the senator as having shared highly sensitive information with people tied to the Egyptian government.

Menendez on Friday cited having beat a previous indictment, in 2018, and accused prosecutors of having “misrepresented the normal work of a congressional office.”

“On top of that, not content with making false claims against me, they have attacked my wife for the long-standing friendships she had before she and I even met,” Menendez added.

David Schertler, a lawyer for Nadine Menendez, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these charges in court.”

The volume of detail in the indictment is extensive and often colorful. Here are some key points and takeaways.

1. The alleged assistance to Egypt

While the alleged bribes will get much of the attention, the substance of what Menendez allegedly provided in exchange shouldn’t get lost — particularly given his powerful perch as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Under Senate Democratic rules, a felony indictment requires a committee chairman to step aside from that position immediately.)

He is described as giving sensitive and nonpublic information to an Egyptian American businessman on two separate occasions, once via Nadine Menendez, and even secretly writing a letter on behalf of the Egyptian government.

In one case, in May 2018, he allegedly met with the businessman, fellow defendant Wael Hana. The same day, he allegedly asked the State Department for highly sensitive (but not classified) details about who served at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The next day, he allegedly texted this information to Nadine Menendez, who forwarded it to Hana, who then forwarded it to an “Egyptian government official.”

The indictment says that in the same month, Menendez, at a dinner with Hana, provided him “nonpublic information” about U.S. military aid to Egypt. After the dinner, Hana allegedly texted another Egyptian government official: “The ban on small arms and ammunition to Egypt has been lifted. That means sales can begin. That will include sniper rifles among other articles.”

Also that month, according to the indictment, Menendez ghostwrote a letter on behalf of the government of Egypt, the text of which asked Menendez’s fellow senators to release a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt. (Menendez and his wife allegedly deleted the email in which Nadine Menendez asked him to write the letter for an Egyptian official.)

2. The stark timeline

One of the most striking features of the indictment is the timeline.

For instance, the indictment describes the schemes beginning approximately when Menendez and Nadine Menendez — then Nadine Arslanian — began dating around February 2018. This would place it starting shortly after all charges were dismissed in the previous indictment against Menendez, in late January 2018. (That case had resulted in a hung jury.)

And while the new indictment arguably doesn’t contain smoking guns of participants saying the money was in exchange for Menendez’s actions, the proximity of events is often remarkable.

In early 2019, Menendez is described as seeking to apply pressure on a senior prosecutor in the New Jersey attorney general’s office in a case against an associate of fellow defendant Jose Uribe, a convicted New Jersey businessman. Starting a few days after Menendez called the prosecutor, Nadine Menendez is described as texting and calling Hana and Uribe about a Mercedes-Benz convertible they would later purchase for her.

Uribe is described as giving Nadine Menendez $15,000 in a parking lot on April 4, 2019, with Nadine Menendez making a $15,000 down payment on the car the following day.

The indictment also describes the senator as calling a high-ranking official in the U.S. Agriculture Department and asking it to stop opposing the Egyptian government’s granting of a monopoly to IS EG Halal, a company Hana operated. Egypt had granted IS EG Halal the exclusive right to certify food exports to Egypt as meeting halal standards. Menendez’s alleged call to the USDA official came just after Hana allegedly shared information from an Egyptian official with Nadine Menendez about the USDA’s objections. Nadine Menendez then allegedly texted the information to Menendez, who later deleted the texts.

3. The gold bars, the hidden cash

The gold bars are certainly the most provocative part of the indictment. It describes not only how the bars were traced back to the men allegedly bribing Menendez, but Menendez doing internet searches on multiple occasions asking how valuable those quantities of gold were.

The indictment says that Hana purchased 22 one-ounce gold bars two days after meeting with Menendez and an Egyptian official in June 2021. Two of the those bars were allegedly seized in the June 2022 search of the Menendezes’ residence.

It also says agents seized two one-kilogram gold bars and nine one-ounce gold bars with serial numbers tracing them to fellow defendant Fred Daibes. Daibes is a New Jersey real estate developer who was indicted in October 2018, and whose case Menendez allegedly emphasized while reviewing candidates to support for U.S. attorney.

(Menendez allegedly criticized the case in a meeting with a candidate for U.S. attorney. After the candidate indicated that they might have to recuse themselves from the case, Menendez declined to put their name forward. An unnamed Menendez adviser is later described as asking another candidate whether they would recuse themselves from the case and passing along word to Menendez that they probably wouldn’t.)

The indictment also says that Menendez, one day after returning from a trip to Egypt in October 2021, allegedly did an internet search for “how much is one kilo of gold worth.” Menendez also did a search for “kilo of gold price” in January of 2022.

Nadine Menendez is described as visiting a jeweler who was friends with Hana and Daibes in March 2022 — a day after meeting with Daibes — and seeking to sell two one-kilogram bars. It says she falsely claims that the bars, worth about $60,000 each at the time, came from her mother.

But it’s not just the gold bars. The indictment also describes more than $500,000 in cash seized from the Menendezes’ home — “much of it stuffed in envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets and a safe” — and Nadine Menendez’s safe-deposit box. Some of the seized cash was allegedly inside jackets bearing the senator’s name, with the indictment showing pictures of the cash on top of the jackets.

4. The politics

Where do things go from here, politically?

Menendez has been indicted before and was able to salvage his political career, and New Jersey has built up a higher tolerance for alleged corruption than most states. But New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is already calling for Menendez’s resignation, as is the state Democratic Party chairman.

In the near term, Democratic Party rules mean he’ll have to at least temporarily relinquish his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations committee. (Menendez stepped down as ranking Democrat when he was previously indicted.)

He’s also up for reelection next year. He thus far faces nominal primary competition, and he won his primary in 2018 after those charges were dismissed. But in that race, his little-known opponent was able to secure 38 percent of the vote despite reporting no spending on the race.

As for the general election, Republicans have tried and failed many times to win in blue New Jersey, which went for President Biden in 2020 by 16 points, but Democrats potentially nominating an indicted senator would certainly add a variable.

Given how slowly corruption cases move through the courts — Menendez’s last one started more than two years after his indictment — it would seem unlikely this one would be resolved before the state’s June 4 primary and possibly even the November 2024 general election.

For now, Menendez is signaling that he will fight — echoing, in some ways, former president Donald Trump’s claims of persecution.

“The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent,” he said, adding: “They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented. Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor’s version.”

Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.

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