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Sen. Bob Menendez indicted on corruption charges in New Jersey

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey has been indicted once again on federal corruption charges. Prosecutors say the Democratic senator and his wife accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes. Menendez chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The indictment contends the scheme involved benefits for the government of Egypt. A 2018 federal corruption trial against Menendez ended in a hung jury. We're joined now by Nancy Solomon of member station WNYC. Nancy, thanks so much for being with us.

NANCY SOLOMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what do prosecutors say?

SOLOMON: Yeah. The bribery and corruption charges involve Egypt and a halal meat business in New Jersey. Egypt wanted to buy U.S. arms, and Menendez wanted a deal for a New Jersey halal meat business to be the sole exporter to Egypt. And separately, there are a couple of business people in New Jersey who were under criminal investigation and allegedly paid Menendez to intervene on their behalf with state prosecutors.

SIMON: And, Nancy, the prosecutors laid out some evidence in photographs - I'll just say it was pretty colorful, isn't it?

SOLOMON: Yeah. Yeah, it's really something. The photos show stacks of cash. And you see them sort of - they've been splayed out from the envelopes that they were sitting in. There's more than $500,000. And they say they have fingerprints on the envelopes tying the money to the New Jersey businessmen indicted in the case. Prosecutors also found more than $150,000 worth of gold bullion. And there was a convertible Mercedes-Benz that was purchased by one of the New Jersey businessmen for Menendez's wife, Nadine. And Menendez allegedly tried to intervene in a criminal matter involving that man. And there are text messages from Nadine Menendez about the halal meat businessman and the deal with Egypt.

SIMON: Senator Menendez got a hung jury in 2018. The trial involved his relationship with a Florida eye doctor. This case is different, isn't it?

SOLOMON: Yeah, very. You know, in 2018, he explained that the vacations and lavish gifts were merely a result of his friendship with the eye doctor - not bribery. This time, it's going to be harder to use the friendship loophole. This is a lot more serious. And the response from leading Democrats in New Jersey has also been different this time around.

SIMON: There have been calls for him to resign, haven't there?

SOLOMON: Right. Democratic Governor Phil Murphy called on Menendez to resign late yesterday. And once he did that, many Democratic leaders fell in behind him. And Menendez has now stepped down temporarily from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That is actually - like the last time in 2018, that's the one thing that's similar.

SIMON: And what has the senator said?

SOLOMON: He released a fairly long statement that he's being persecuted and that he won't resign. He said, quote, "for years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave." And that line actually got a laugh from just about every political reporter in New Jersey because when, in 2018, the trial ended with the hung jury, he stood on the steps of the courthouse and said, to those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are, and I won't forget you. And it was such a great political line that an artist made an iron-on patch with that quote that people could put on their jackets.

SIMON: Well, we won't forget you. Nancy Solomon of WNYC. Thanks so much.

SOLOMON: Thanks, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF SVEN WUNDER'S "TULIP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Nancy Solomon