NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey was charged Thursday with conspiring for years to act as an agent of the Egyptian government while he held a powerful role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, putting the Democrat in deeper legal trouble as he continues to reject calls to resign.
The superseding indictment in Manhattan federal court accuses Menendez of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people to register with the U.S. government if they act as “an agent of a foreign principal.” As a member of Congress, Menendez was prohibited from being an agent of a foreign government.
The new charge comes weeks after Menendez and his wife were accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car from three New Jersey businessmen who wanted the senator’s help and influence over foreign affairs.
The new indictment says a conspiracy occurred from January 2018 to June 2022, alleging that Menendez “promised to take and took a series of acts on behalf of Egypt, including on behalf of Egyptian military and intelligence officials.” It said he conspired to do so with his wife, Nadine, and a business associate and fellow defendant, Wael Hana.
According to the indictment, Hana and Nadine Menendez also communicated requests and directives from Egyptian officials to Menendez.
Hours after the latest charge was revealed, Menendez issued a statement, saying it “flies in the face of my long record of standing up for human rights and democracy in Egypt and in challenging leaders of that country, including President (Fattah) El-Sisi on these issues.”
“I have been, throughout my life, loyal to only one country — the United States of America, the land my family chose to live in democracy and freedom,” he added. ”Piling new charge upon new charge does not make the allegations true. … I again ask people who know me and my record to give me the chance to present my defense and show my innocence.”
The new charge brought fresh calls for Menendez to resign. Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania said in a statement that senators should vote to expel Menendez because “we cannot have an alleged foreign agent in the United States Senate.”
But a vote to expel was unlikely before trial. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has not called on Menendez to resign and has not commented on the new charge.
The charge comes as more than 30 Senate Democrats — including his home state colleague, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker — have called on him to resign. Menendez has remained defiant, telling colleagues in a closed-door luncheon two weeks ago that he will not leave the Senate.
Menendez has not said whether he will run for reelection next year. At least one Democrat, New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim, has already jumped into the primary, and the head of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, has called on Menendez to resign, signaling that he may not receive campaign assistance traditionally available to incumbents. Kim on Thursday urged the Senate to expel Menendez.
The indictment alleged that in May 2019, Menendez, his wife and Hana met with an Egyptian intelligence official in Menendez’s Senate office in Washington. During the meeting, they discussed an American citizen who was seriously injured in a 2015 airstrike by the Egyptian military using a U.S.-made Apache helicopter, the indictment said.
Some members of Congress objected to awarding certain military aid to Egypt over that episode and the perception by certain lawmakers that the Egyptian government was unwilling to fairly compensate the injured American, according to the indictment.
Shortly after the meeting in Washington, the Egyptian official texted Hana that if Menendez helped resolve the matter, “he will sit very comfortably.” Hana replied, “Orders, consider it done,” the indictment said.
Prosecutors noted that a search of Hana’s cellphone had “revealed thousands of text messages, many via an encrypted application, with Egyptian military and intelligence officials, pertaining to various topics, including Menendez, and including requests and directives for Hana to act upon.”
And they said for the first time that Nadine Menendez began at least in 2018, the same year she started dating the senator, to have “meetings and direct communications with multiple Egyptian officials, at least some of whom she understood were intelligence officials, and received requests from them, and conveyed information and requests from them to Menendez.”
Attorney Danny Onorato, who represents Nadine Menendez, said in a statement that she denies all allegations in the superseding indictment, “including the claim that she acted as an agent of any foreign government. We will fight all these charges, as appropriate, in court.”
In an email, Hana’s attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, said the “new allegation that Wael Hana was part of a plot concocted over dinner to enlist Senator Menendez as an agent of the Egyptian Government is as absurd as it is false.”
Menendez and his wife have pleaded not guilty to the charges lodged against them last month. Hana pleaded not guilty last month to charges including conspiracy to commit bribery.
After Hana’s company was granted a lucrative monopoly by the Egyptian government to certify that all meat imported into that country met religious requirements, prosecutors said, Menendez urged U.S. agriculture officials to stop questioning the deal.
Menendez was accused of trying to interfere in two criminal cases, pushing prosecutors to either drop an investigation or give leniency to friends of his associates. In return, prosecutors said, one businessman, Jose Uribe, bought Nadine Menendez a $60,000 luxury car. Uribe has pleaded not guilty.
In both the old and new indictments, prosecutors said Menendez, after meeting with an Egyptian official, lobbied then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to increase American engagement in stalled negotiations involving Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to build a dam over the Nile River, a key foreign policy issue for Egypt.
The indictments said that while Menendez was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he took several steps to secretly aid Egyptian officials. That included ghostwriting a letter to fellow senators encouraging them to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt. He relinquished the chairmanship of the committee after the earlier indictment against him was unsealed last month.
He was also accused of passing along information about employees at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and transmitting nonpublic information to Egyptian officials about military aid.
Menendez, 69, has insisted that he did nothing unusual to assist Egypt and that prosecutors had misunderstood the work of a senator involved in foreign affairs.
Authorities who searched Menendez’s home last year said they found more than $100,000 worth of gold bars and over $480,000 in cash — much of it hidden in closets, clothing and a safe.
The Justice Department in recent years has stepped up its criminal enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law enacted in 1938 to unmask Nazi propaganda in the United States that requires people to disclose to the Justice Department when they advocate, lobby or perform public relations work in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government or political entity.
According to the new indictment, Menendez himself made multiple requests from 2020 to 2022 for the U.S. to investigate a former member of Congress for allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent, saying in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland that it was “imperative that the Justice Department ensure he is held to account.”
Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston, Michael Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, and Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this story.