Senate Foreign Relations Chair Indicted On Alleged Bribery Charges

Sen. Bob Menendez, Chairman, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)

Credit: Office of Sen. Bob Menendez

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been indicted on three felony charges for allegedly taking bribes from sources including agents of the Egyptian government, the U.S. Justice Department said on Sept. 22.

The unsealed indictment accuses Menendez of secretly helping to release hundreds of millions of dollars of frozen Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) deals to the Egyptian government starting in 2018 after he became chairman of the Senate panel that oversees such transactions.

In return, Menendez allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gold bars, including some found inside the 69-year-old’s home, the Justice Department says.

“My office is firmly committed to rooting out corruption, without fear or favor, and without any regard to partisan politics,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.

As chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez wields singular power over arms exports. The State Department typically honors “holds” placed by the chair or ranking member of the committee over any FMS or FMF case. Citing concerns over human rights and bullying of its neighbors, Menendez has also blocked all exports of new weapon systems to Turkey, such as the NATO member’s longstanding requests to acquire new Lockheed Martin F-16s.

Menendez released a statement denying the charges, saying any help that he provided the Egyptian government was part of the normal duties of a senator.

Menendez’s statement did not address whether he will continue to act as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, but the rules of the Senate’s Democratic conference say he must step aside.

Any committee chairman charged with a felony “shall immediately step aside,” according to the Rules for the Democratic Conference, a document last updated on Dec. 21, 2022. The next most senior eligible Democratic member of the committee would then serve as the acting chair. In the case of the Foreign Relations Committee, the next senior Democratic member is Sen. Ben Cardin, of Maryland.

Specifically, the indictment alleges that Menendez made several overtures to help the Egyptian government at a time when many FMS and FMF deals to the country had been put on hold due to human rights concerns.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.