Bob Menendez returned to court in New York on Monday and entered a not guilty plea to a charge alleging that the US senator conspired to act as an agent of the Egyptian government when he chaired the Senate foreign relations committee.
Menendez, 69, spoke up to say “not guilty” when offered the chance to make his plea during his first appearance before Judge Sidney Stein at federal court in lower Manhattan. Stein is expected to preside over a trial tentatively scheduled for May.
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Stein said the plea was the sole purpose for the hearing and adjourned the proceeding after about five minutes.
The Democratic senator from New Jersey stepped down from his powerful post leading the Senate committee after he was charged last month. Prosecutors said the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car over the past five years from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for a variety of corrupt acts.
The other defendants entered not guilty charges to a superseding indictment last week. The senator was permitted to delay his arraignment so he could tend to Senate duties. He has said that throughout his life he has been loyal to the US and that he will prove he is innocent.
Menendez has resisted calls from more than 30 national Democrats to resign, including a severe blow when fellow New Jersey senator Cory Booker, who has always shown strong loyalty to Menendez, joined those calls last month.
The rewritten indictment added a charge alleging that the senator, his wife and one of the businessmen conspired to have Menendez act as an agent of the government of Egypt and Egyptian officials.
As a member of Congress, Menendez is prohibited from acting as an agent for a foreign government.
Menendez is accused of passing information to the Egyptians about the staff at the US embassy in Cairo, ghostwriting a letter on Egypt’s behalf intended to influence fellow senators and urging the US Department of State to get more involved in international negotiations to block a dam project Egypt opposed, among other things.
Last week, Nadine Menendez and a businessman, Wael Hana, pleaded not guilty to the superseding indictment.
Both of them were charged with conspiring with the senator to use him as an agent of the government of Egypt and its officials. The charge carries a potential penalty of up to five years in prison.
Menendez was released on Monday on a $100,000 bond.
When federal prosecutors raided Bob Menendez’s home in the summer of 2022, they found a staggering haul.
Menendez, one of the most influential Democrats in the country, had almost $500,000 in cash stuffed into jacket pockets, closets and a safe, along with 13 gold bars, two of them marked as 1kg in weight, and a Mercedez-Benz in the garage.
The Associated Press contributed reporting