Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., has called for Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey to resign in the wake of bombshell bribery allegations against him, but so far their Democratic colleagues are being more guarded.
In interviews on Sunday news programs, three Democratic senators were highly critical of Menendez, who was recently indicted on sweeping corruption charges, but did not call for him to vacate his seat in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who’s on the Foreign Relations Committee, which Menendez chaired until Friday, called the allegations “devastating.”
“No senators should be trading on their position in order to enrich themselves. It is hard for me to believe that Sen. Menendez can be effective in his job given these allegations, but I think I want to get back and talk to my colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee before I recommend a path forward for Sen. Menendez,” Murphy said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart.”
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the charges are “serious and shocking.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Kelly said, noting that Menendez has stepped down as Foreign Relations chair.
“That’s a serious step,” Kelly said, but “I think Sen. Menendez is going to have to think long and hard about the cloud that’s going to hang over his service in the United State Senate.”
“He’s got to figure out whether he can adequately serve the people of New Jersey,” Kelly said.
Menendez and his wife were indicted Friday on charges that include conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion. The indictment alleges they received bribes included “cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle and other items of value.”
Federal investigators who searched his home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, with a warrant found more than $480,000 in cash, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe,” according to the indictment.
Fetterman became the first Democratic senator to call for Menendez to resign Saturday. “He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence under our system, but he is not entitled to continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations,” Fetterman said in a statement.
Menendez has denied wrongdoing, and he said in a statement Friday night, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Menendez is expected to hold a news conference Monday in Hudson County, New Jersey, where he got his start in politics, the New Jersey Globe, a political news site, reported Sunday, citing a source directly involved with the planning.
Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “there’s no question” the charges are “very serious.”
But his future is up to him and his constituents, Durbin said: “In terms of resignation, that’s a decision to be made by Sen. Menendez and the people of New Jersey.
“The person who is accused is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and it’s the responsibility of the government to prove that case. I have said that about Donald Trump. I will say the same thing about Bob Menendez,” Durbin added.
Numerous Democrats in Menendez’s home state, meanwhile, including Gov. Phil Murphy, have called for him to step down. Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., has also called on him to resign, and he said Saturday he plans to challenge Menendez for his seat.
Menendez had said before the indictment that he plans to seek re-election next year. Durbin told CNN, “That remains to be seen.”
Menendez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menendez did get some support Sunday from an unlikely source — Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y.
Santos, who was indicted by federal prosecutors on fraud charges in May and has faced bipartisan calls to resign, was asked by NBC News whether he thought Menendez should step down.
“I think due process is important, and I think he has the right to defend himself. He’s innocent until proven guilty. This — the media has to stop acting like everybody is guilty before they’re even judged that by a jury,” said Santos, who has pleaded not guilty in his own case.
“When did we walk away from the fabric of our Constitution that everybody has a presumption of innocence before anything else? So I don’t I don’t think he should resign,” he said.