In the latest twist in the unfolding, alleged bribery scandal involving U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., longtime friend and ally, Cory Booker, a fellow Democrat and the state’s junior senator, called on his senior counterpart to resign Tuesday.
Booker’s statement follows almost universal calls from New Jersey Democrats for Menendez to step down as he faces a three-count indictment from prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). It also coincides with growing pressure from fellow Democratic senators nationwide as they return to Washington, D.C., and are questioned about the situation.
“For nearly a decade, I’ve worked in the Senate alongside Sen. Menendez. As New Jersey’s junior senator, I imagine that I’ve had more professional experiences with him than most others, and I’ve witnessed his extraordinary work and boundless work ethic,” said Booker in a statement. “I’ve consistently found Sen. Menendez to be intellectually gifted, tough, passionate, and deeply empathetic. We have developed a working relationship and a friendship that I value and believe has furthered our effectiveness in serving New Jersey.”
Booker described the federal indictment as containing “shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing,” noting that he has found the charges hard to reconcile with the person he knows.
“It is not surprising to me that Sen. Menendez is again determined to mount a vigorous defense,” Booker continued. “And I still believe he, like anyone involved with our criminal justice system, deserves our presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A jury of his peers will make the ultimate decision as to whether he is criminally guilty.”
Following the indictment’s unsealing on Friday, Menendez immediately dug in his heels, vowing to defend himself. The first round of calls for Menendez to resign followed from a number of state party leaders, lawmakers and others, including Gov. Phil Murphy.
Menendez doubled down on the defiant position with another statement issued Friday evening. Then, on Monday and surrounded by longtime allies and loyalists in his native Union City, Menendez tripled down on his pledge to fight the charges, remain in office, and run for re-election next year — acknowledging that this will be his biggest fight yet.
“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 still will be New Jersey’s senior senator,” said Menendez Sept. 25.
While Booker said he understood Menendez’s posture to fight the charges, he stressed that there is another, higher standard for public officials — one not of criminal law but of common ideals.
“As senators, we operate in the public trust. That trust is essential to our ability to do our work and perform our duties for our constituents,” said Booker. “The details of the allegations against Sen. Menendez are of such a nature that the faith and trust of New Jerseyans as well as those he must work with in order to be effective have been shaken to the core. As Sen. Menendez prepares to mount his legal defense, he has stated that he will not resign.
“Sen. Menendez fiercely asserts his innocence, and it is therefore understandable that he believes stepping down is patently unfair. But I believe this is a mistake,” Booker said.
He emphasized that stepping down is not an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgement that holding public office demands sacrifices that come at great personal cost.
“Sen. Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve,” said Booker. “And in this case, he must do so again. I believe stepping down is best for those Sen. Menendez has spent his life serving.”
As of the writing of this story, Menendez has not publicly responded to the resignation calls from Booker and other senate Democrats. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menendez did step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is scheduled to have a first court appearance, along with his wife, Nadine, and three co-defendants, in New York on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.
“For now, I remain focused on continuing to do the important work I do every day on behalf of the 9 million people who call New Jersey home, including doing everything we can this week to avoid a government shutdown, deliver critical funding for states affected by catastrophic natural disasters, and ensure the people of Ukraine have everything they need to defeat Putin,” said Menendez on Monday. “And I’ll return to Washington this week to do exactly that.”
This story remains fluid; stay with NJBIZ for the latest developments.