Menendez gains a primary opponent as calls for his resignation grow following the indictment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey announced Saturday that he will run against Sen. Robert Menendez in next year’s Democratic primary for state Senate, saying he felt compelled to run after him and him to take on the three-term senator Ms charged with extensive corruption allegations.

Kim’s surprise announcement came as more Democrats are calling for Menendez to resign. Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman was the first Democratic senator to do so, and several members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, as well as the state’s Democratic governor, called for him to resign.

“I didn’t expect this, but I believe New Jersey deserves better,” Kim said in a statement. “We cannot compromise the Senate or compromise the integrity of our country. I believe it is time to restore faith in our democracy and that is why I am running for Senate.”

The calls for Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, come after he and his wife Nadine were charged on Friday for using his position of power to support Egypt’s authoritarian government and also to pressure federal prosecutors to drop a case against a friend. The three-count indictment details a series of bribes paid by three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for the corrupt acts – gold bars, a luxury car and cash.

It is the second charge because of bribery allegations against Menendez – and the second time that he had to give up his position as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. He regained the leadership position in 2018 after the case ended in a deadlocked jury decision.

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The immediate calls for his resignation contrast with when he was first impeached eight years ago and signal that he could be in deep trouble with his party and voters as his re-election in 2024 approaches.

Menendez appeared defiant after Friday’s indictment, saying in a statement Friday evening, “I’m not going anywhere.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that Menendez would be charged under Senate Democratic caucus rules had to resign as chairman because he was accused of a crime. But he did not call for Menendez to resign.

In a statement Saturday, Fetterman became the first Senate Democrat to do so, saying his Senate colleague “is entitled to the presumption of innocence under our system, but he has no right to continue to exert influence over national policy, especially in light of the.” Serious and specific nature of the allegations. I hope he chooses an honorable exit and focuses on his trial.”

Several Democrats in the New Jersey House delegation also called on Menendez to leave, including Reps. Donald Norcross, Josh Gottheimer, Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Mikie Sherrill and Bonnie Watson Coleman.

“This is a sad day for our great state,” said Pascrell, a ranking member of the House of Representatives who served alongside Menendez in the New Jersey delegation for nearly three decades. “The hallmark of our justice system is the presumption of innocence, and the senator deserves his day in court. But given the seriousness of these allegations, I do not believe that Senator Menendez can continue to carry out the important responsibilities of his office for our state.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also called for Menendez’s immediate resignation, saying the allegations are “so serious” that they threaten the senator’s ability to function.

Two notable New Jersey Democrats who have not called on Menendez to resign: Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, his New Jersey colleague in the Senate, and his son, Rep. Rob Menendez, who said in a statement he has “unwavering confidence” in him his father.

Authorities who searched Menendez’s home last year found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars and more than $480,000 worth of cash – much of it hidden in closets, clothing and a safe, prosecutors say. The indictment includes photos of cash stuffed into envelopes inside jackets with Menendez’s name on them and of a luxury car that prosecutors say was given to the couple as a bribe by the businessmen.

Prosecutors say Menendez directly interfered in criminal investigations, including by pushing to appoint a federal prosecutor in New Jersey who he believed could be influenced in a criminal case against a businessman and associate of the senator. He also tried to use his position of power to interfere in a separate criminal investigation by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, the indictment says.

Other allegations include repeated actions by Menendez on behalf of Egypt despite U.S. government concerns about the human rights situation in the country that led Congress to impose aid restrictions in recent years. His efforts include ghostwriting a letter to his fellow senators urging them to rescind $300 million in aid to Egypt, a major recipient of U.S. government assistance, as well as providing non-public information to Egyptian officials Communication with business people.

Menendez responded that there was an “active smear campaign” against him.

“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly tried to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” he said in a statement.

David Schertler, an attorney for Menendez’s wife, Nadine, said she “denies any criminal conduct and will vigorously contest these allegations in court.”

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