Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, is “outraged” over the latest Justice Department indictment charges leveled against him, saying prosecutors are “dead wrong.”
“For nearly three years, I’ve lived under a Justice Department cloud. And today I’m outraged that this cloud has not been lifted,” Menendez told supporters late Wednesday. “I’m confident at the end of the day, I will be vindicated and they will be exposed.”
“I will not be silenced,” Menendez added, maintaining that Justice Department prosecutors were “tricked” into starting an investigation because of a “political motive to silence” the senator. The New Jersey politician had previously denounced the corruption charges as a “smear campaign” when the investigation was first announced.
Menendez said that his political career had started with a fight against corruption and promised that “this is not how my career is going to end.”
“I have always conducted myself in accordance with the law,” the New Jersey senator said. “That’s who I am and I am proud of what I have accomplished and I am not going anywhere. I’m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service career and my entire life.”
“I’m angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something that is improper,” Menendez said. “They are dead wrong and I am confident that they will be proven so.”
The Cuban-American senator further asked his supporters to “hold their judgment” and to remember “all the other times when prosecutors got it wrong.” Menendez launched into a Spanish version of the speech soon after.
The New Jersey politician did not address reports that he would soon step down as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, though a source familiar with the decision told CBS News that the senator intends to do so.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, still expects Menendez to play a part in foreign policy.
“While I have no knowledge of the judicial matters at hand, I appreciate his bipartisan work on foreign relations issues and expect he will continue to play a constructive role,” the Tennessee senator said.
The Justice Department announced a formal indictment Wednesday for Menendez and close friend, Dr. Salomon Melgen, charging the duo with one count of conspiracy, one count of violating the travel act, eight counts of bribery and three counts of honest services fraud. Menendez was also charged with a single count of making false statements.
Menendez reportedly accepted nearly $1 million of gifts and campaign contributions from Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist, over a seven year span. According to a Justice Department statement, the senator used his seat in public office to “influence the outcome of ongoing contractual and Medicare billing disputes worth tens of millions of dollars to Melgen and to support the visa applications of several of Melgen’s girlfriends.”
Menendez never disclosed the financial contributions, according to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which is handling the case.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) criticized Menendez soon after news of the indictment.
“Senator Menendez’s ethics lapses have long been a distraction to the United States Senate. With today’s indictment, the FBI and the Justice Department made it clear that Senator Menendez has betrayed the trust of New Jersey families,” said NRSC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek in a statement. “His actions reinforce all that the American people believe is wrong with Washington Democrats and closes the book on a Senate Democrat majority that put their personal interests ahead of the American people.”
Fellow Democratic colleague Sen. Cory Booker had some kind words for the senator.
“Senator Menendez has never wavered in his commitment to the people of New Jersey,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said in a statement. “He’s been an invaluable resource and a mentor to me since I arrived in the Senate. Our system of justice is designed to be fair and impartial, and it presumes innocence before guilt. I won’t waver in my commitment to stand alongside my senior Senator to serve our great state.”
“Let me be very clear, I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” Menendez, who had previously maintained that the charges against him were a political “smear campaign,” said last month. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The Justice Department formally handed down an indictment for the New Jersey senator Wednesday afternoon.