U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, in his first public appearance since he was indicted Friday on federal bribery charges, did not say if he would be running for reelection in 2024.
That may have been the biggest news of the short news conference.
This may have been the most surprising: Menendez (D-N.J.) said the $480,000 in cash prosecutors found in envelopes around his house — envelopes that prosecutors say have DNA evidence of others charged — was emergency money he kept around the house.
He said having extra money around was a practice he learned from his parents from their experience in Cuba.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” Menendez said.
“This may seem old-fashioned, but these were monies drawn from my personal savings account based on my income I have lawfully derived over those 30 years. I look forward to addressing other issues at trial.”
Menendez spoke both English and Spanish during the event, but he did not take questions. He did express his innocence.
“The allegations leveled against me are just that — allegations,” he said.
Menendez, who had a previous indictment dismissed by a mistrial in 2015, said he’s ready to have his day in court again.
“I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet, but, 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,” he said.
CNBC reported that Menendez has hired attorney Abbe Lowell to represent him. Lowell is also defending Hunter Biden, the president’s son, is another high-profile case.
Menendez said he’s ready to fight.
“Prosecutors get it wrong sometimes,” he said. “Sadly, I know that.”
The charges, released Friday, were startling.
Menendez, his wife, Nadine, and New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes were accused of participating in a bribery scheme going back to 2018.
Among other things, prosecutors allege that the three businessmen collectively paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes, including cash, gold, a Mercedes-Benz and other things of value in exchange for Menendez agreeing to use his power and influence to benefit the government of Egypt.
The charges were so extreme that nearly every major Democratic official in the state — led by Gov. Phil Murphy — has called for him to resign.
Menendez so far has refused. He said his long history of public service shows his true character.
“For anyone who has known me throughout my 50 years of public service, they know I have always fought for what is right,” he said. “My advocacy has always been grounded.
“And what I learned from growing up as the son of Cuban refugees, especially my mom, my hero, Evangelina Menendez. Everything I accomplished, I worked for despite the naysayers and everyone who has underestimated me.”