The case of Bob Menendez: Epilogue of a corrupt senator
The 69 year-old politician of Cuban origin, member of the Democratic Party and senator for the state of New Jersey, Bob Menendez, was elected for the first time to the Upper House in 2006, being reelected in 2012 and 2018. Previously, in 1992, he had been elected as a representative to the House where he served for 13 years. In 2013, he was sworn in as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he held until the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate in the 2014 elections. When the Democrats regained the Upper House in the 2020 elections, he again assumed the leadership of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2021.
Menendez, together with Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, make up the trio of senators of Cuban origin who sponsor in that legislative body the largest number of initiatives aimed at promoting activities designed to hinder relations between the United States and Cuba and harm the Cuban government and people as much as possible with the purpose of liquidating the revolution and socialism on the island. Cruz with a somewhat lower profile. Rubio, representing Florida where more than one and a half million Cubans live (7% of the state’s population) and with a Miami where there is an effervescent anti-Cuban political environment, competes in initiatives of this type with Menendez, more motivated by ideological reasons, who represents a state where Cubans constitute less than 0.9% of the population.
According to the criteria of many journalists and political analysts, Menendez has had considerable influence on President Joe Biden in ensuring that he has not implemented the policies he announced during his electoral campaign to eliminate some of the measures introduced by Trump during his presidency with the purpose of strengthening the economic war against Cuba. As a Democrat and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez is positioned to be taken seriously in his threats to withdraw the necessary support the President requires from the Senate in order to accomplish important aspects of his policy agenda.
But last September 22, Menendez was forced to resign as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee as a result of legal proceedings brought against him and his wife Nadine Arslanian Menendez for conspiracy. Both Menendez and his wife pleaded not guilty. The senator called the accusations unfounded and said that «for years behind-the-scenes forces have repeatedly tried to silence my voice and dig my political grave» and assured that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing in the criminal proceedings against him.
This is not the first time that Senator Menendez has been involved in a scandal of this nature. In 2015 he was also formally charged with using his position as a senator to benefit Dr. Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and friend of his. The indictment included lobbying government officials to resolve a Medicare billing dispute in Melgen’s favor, secure visas for the doctor’s girlfriends and help protect a contract the doctor had to provide port screening equipment to the Dominican Republic. In exchange for his favors, Menendez received $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions. The gifts included trips on Melgen’s private jet to a resort in the Dominican Republic and a vacation in Paris. However, prosecutors dropped the case after a jury could not reach a unanimous agreement and a judge dismissed some charges. Subsequently, the Senate Ethics Committee reprimanded Menendez after determining that he had improperly accepted gifts, failed to disclose it, and used his influence to advance Melgen’s personal interests.
The Senate Historical Office says Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in U.S. history involved in two unrelated criminal charges.
Now, to the charges of corruption through conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and extortion, a new and much more serious one has been added; that of conspiracy to act as a foreign agent of Egypt.
The indictment, which stems from a years-long public corruption investigation by the Department of Justice, links him and his wife to three New Jersey businessmen, Wael Hana, José Uribe and Fred Daibes, whom he protected and helped to enrich, and who are also charged in the case.
In the search of Menendez and his wife’s residence, approximately $500,000 in cash was found in a safe and in envelopes, closets and pockets of the senator’s jackets. Gold bullion worth $100,000 was also found. According to prosecutors, the bribe also included mortgage payments, a luxury Mercedes Benz vehicle paid for by Uribe and a job for Nadine for whom almost no presence was required.
Menendez’s explanation as to why he had these huge amounts of money in his home is somewhere between cynical and ridiculous: «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 my family’s history of facing confiscations in Cuba. In fact, Menendez’s father, who was a carpenter, and his mother, a seamstress, left Cuba in 1953 during the Batista dictatorship, and Bob was born in the United States.
An article by Jonathan Dienst, Coutney Copenhagen and Tom Winter published in NBCN New York on December 5, 2023, states that, although Menendez denies receiving money from Fred Daibes, prosecutors allege that, in tests conducted on money found at the Menendez home, Daibes’ fingerprints and DNA were found. The article also reveals that prosecutors were able to prove that the four gold bars found had belonged to Daibes. Each gold bar has a serial number engraved on it. Daibes was the victim of a robbery in 2013 and reported 22 stolen bars with their respective serial numbers. Shortly after the theft, the bars were recovered by the police, verified by the serial number to be the ones stolen from him. It was also verified by serial number that the 4 found at Menendez’s home were part of the 22 that had been previously stolen from Daibes.
Prosecutors allege that Menendez’s wife worked with Wael Hana to introduce the senator to Egyptian military and intelligence officials. Hana, a native of Egypt, exchanged thousands of text messages with Mrs. Menendez, which she deleted from her cell phone. Hana and the senator’s wife entered into an agreement in which the businessman gave money for the senator to benefit the Egyptian government with military sales and military financing. On one occasion, according to prosecutors, Menendez secretly wrote a letter on behalf of the Egyptian government to convince other U.S. senators to unblock $300 million in aid to Egypt. Among the allegations is also helping Wael Hana obtain exclusive authorization from the Egyptian government to certify that meat exported by him to that country meets Islamic dietary requirements. In addition, prosecutors say the senator met with Egyptian military and intelligence officials and passed them non-public information about U.S. embassy employees in Cairo.
Among the new allegations is that Menendez accepted payments from one of his co-conspirators, New Jersey real estate developer Fred Daibes, in exchange for using his influence to help him obtain millions of dollars from a Qatari-linked investment fund. According to prosecutors, the senator also took steps to help the Arab nation through a press release praising the Qatari government. Menendez requested tickets to the 2022 Formula One Grand Prix to favor a close relative of his wife, and accepted other gifts from Qatar. As payment for his efforts, Daibes gave Menendez one of the gold bars. Last year, the Qatari Investment Company invested tens of millions of dollars with Daibes. Menendez continued to receive benefits from the Qataris, including four tickets to that year’s Formula One Grand Prix. A message from Daibes to Menendez offering him a luxury watch valued at $23,900 was also found.
Another accusation has to do with pressure exerted by the senator on President Biden to appoint a lawyer of his interest as a federal prosecutor, since Menendez believed that he could be influenced by him to act in favor of himself and his associates. Despite the initial rejection due to his poor qualifications, Menendez insisted that he be given a second chance, this time his nominee failed again.
Menendez and his wife are free after posting bail. The trial has been set for May 6. The senator’s lawyers requested a two-month postponement but the judge did not agree. Now, in what could be a new maneuver, the Menendez husband and wife have requested two separate trials, to avoid choosing between defending themselves and testifying against their partner, they said.
Menéndez tries to appear very confident that he will be acquitted again. However, the situation is very different this time than it was a few years ago. The prosecutors have strong evidence and the accusations are much more serious. If on the previous occasion Menendez had the backing of the vast majority of his party’s senators, this time more than half of them have asked him to resign his seat in the Upper House, and so have several New Jersey politicians, including the governor. The seriousness of the allegations, if proven, could lead to up to 20 years in prison.
At this moment 84% of the New Jersey population considers Menendez to be corrupt, and among the state’s voters only 6% now have a favorable opinion of him. Already, some Democratic politicians have announced that they will run in the primary and then face the Republican candidate in the race for the Senate seat. Andy Kim is leading the polls with a considerable lead over Tammy Murphy, the governor’s wife, who is in second place. At a recent fundraiser in Puerto Rico for the senator, there were numerous empty chairs.
Given the seriousness of the accusations, it is extremely difficult for Menendez to get off scot-free this time. Even in the event that by some legal maneuver he manages to do so, everything indicates that it would be impossible for him to survive a Democratic primary. It seems that the end of this corrupt senator’s political career is finally approaching.
List of References
Gold bars featured in Bob Menendez bribery case linked to 2013 robbery, records show/ NBCN NEW YORK, By Jonathan Dienst, Courtney Copenhagen and Tom Winter, 05/12/2023.
Gold bars, half a million in cash and a luxury car: the senator of Cuban origin Bob Menéndez and his wife are accused in the US of receiving bribes, BBC News, 22 septiembre 2023.
Senador Bob Menéndez accused of accepting bribes by the Egyptian government, by Benjamin Weiser, Nicholas Fandos and Tracey Tully, Oct. 30, 2023, NY Times.
Menendez job approval at 8%, poll shows/ THE BOSTON GLOBE, By David Wildstein, 26/10/2023.
Sen. Bob Menendez bribery trial set for May 2024/ CNBC, By Christina Wilkie, 02/10/2023.
US Sen. Bob Menendez pleads not guilty to pocketing bribes in a wide-ranging corruption case,By LARRY NEUMEISTER, ALANNA DURKIN RICHER and JAKE OFFENHARTZ Associated Press.
Playbook PM: Inside the shocking Menendez indictment/ POLITICO, By Eli Okun.
Sen. Bob Menendez and wife indicted on bribery charges; DOJ seizes gold bars and $500,000/ CNN, By Kara Scannell and Katelyn Polantz, 22/09/2023.
These Are the Key Players in the Case Against Senator Menendez/ NYT, Tracey Tully, 09/22/2023.
Tammy Murphy, N.J.’s First Lady, Enters Crowded Race for Menendez’s Seat, The New York Times, By Tracey Tully, Nov. 15, 2023.
Judge denies bid to delay Menendez trial over bribery allegations/ THE HILL BY NICK ROBERTSON-12/28/23.
How Menendez Tried and Failed to Place an Ally in a Key Federal Post,By Benjamin Weiser, Nicholas Fandos and Tracey Tully, Oct. 30, 2023.
Nadine Menendez Wants Her Own Trial. So Does Her Husband. The New York Times, By Benjamin Weiser and Tracey Tully, Jan. 15, 2024.
Menendez Faces a New Accusation: Aiding the Qatari Government, The New York Times, By Tracey Tully, Benjamin Weiser and Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 2, 2024