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Booker says Menendez should resign, breaking silence

Sen. Cory Booker on Tuesday morning called on Sen. Robert Menendez, his Democratic colleague from New Jersey, to resign, ending days of silence after Menéndez was accused of bribery.

As a junior senator from New Jersey, Booker has often described Menendez, the senior senator, as a friend, ally and mentor. His decision to condemn Mr. Menendez and join the growing chorus of state and federal officials calling for him to resign demonstrates the Deepening crisis facing a senator who until last week had occupied one of the most powerful and secure positions in American politics.

“The details of the allegations against Senator Menendez are such that the faith and confidence of New Jerseyans, as well as those with whom he must work to be effective, have been shaken to the core,” Booker said. and added: “I believe that resigning is best for those whom Senator Menéndez has served his entire life.”

Mr. Menéndez was loaded Friday by using his power as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to help the Egyptian government and New Jersey businessmen in exchange for bribes that included gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, exercise machines and more than $500,000 in cash. .

Mister. Menendez has been defiant in the face of accusationssaying at a news conference Monday that prosecutors had framed the allegations against him to be “as lewd as possible” and predicting he would be exonerated.

Mr. Booker’s statement came as an avalanche of democrats, particularly those facing re-election next year in politically competitive states, issued statements calling on Menéndez to resign. Many top New Jersey Democrats, including Gov. Philip D. Murphy, have also said Menendez should resign.

The bond between Booker and Menendez has been strong since Booker’s first months in the Senate, in 2013, when he was one of the first members in co-sponsor a bill by Mr. Menendez to punish Iran for its nuclear weapons program by imposing tougher economic sanctions.

In the decade since, the two senators have joined forces at hundreds of press conferences and other public events, each praising the other as a friend and advocate for New Jersey voters.

The friendship survived a previous series of corruption allegations against Mr. Menéndez, in 2015when the senator was accused of using his power to help an eye surgeon in New Jersey who was later sentenced to prison for Medicare fraud.

That corruption trial ended in a mistrial in November 2017. The judge later acquitted Mr. Menéndez of various charges and the Department of Justice fired the others.

“Bob is my friend. There is no senator with whom I have worked more closely. He is an extraordinary senator. “I have seen it in the most intimate moments and I did not see even a hint of corruption.” Booker said in an interview with HuffPost in 2019.. “I will support Bob Menendez.”

The bond between the two senators was on national display in January, when they joined President Biden at an event in Manhattan to celebrate new federal funding for a long-delayed project to rebuild a rail tunnel connecting New York City to New York. Sweater.

Even as he called for Menendez’s resignation, Booker praised his colleague for his “boundless work ethic” and sought in his statement to highlight “a friendship that I value.” He also said that he supported Mr. Menendez’s efforts “to mount a vigorous defense.”

But in other respects, Booker underscored the extreme, and at times vulgar, nature of the allegations, describing the federal indictment as containing “shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing.”

Even before the latest indictment was announced, Opinion polls indicated that public support for Mr. Menéndez was declining.said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey.

During the first criminal charge against Menendez, “New Jersey voters, and particularly Democrats, were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Murray said. “This time, public opinion is different.”

Booker’s statement came a day after Menendez responded to the allegation at the news conference, where he said he had withdrawn the cash found in his home from his own savings account.

This appeared to contradict statements by federal prosecutors, who said some of the cash was found in envelopes containing the fingerprints and DNA of one of Mr. Menendez’s alleged accomplices.

Such brazenness may partly explain why politicians have reacted more negatively to this latest accusation than the previous one, said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

“How did his DNA get on all the money you took out of the bank? It doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Rasmussen, who served as press secretary for James E. McGreevey, the New Jersey governor who was forced to resign in 2004 following his own corruption scandal. “I think it means electoral death for him.”

Even some of Menendez’s former allies agree. Raymond Lesniak served alongside Mr. Menendez in the New Jersey Senate. Later, as chairman of the state Democratic Party, he drew a voting map that included a congressional district filled with Latino voters, helping Menendez get elected to the House of Representatives in 1992.

“As far as his re-election prospects are concerned, it’s over,” Lesniak said.

Tracey Tully contributed with reports.

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