New York

Booker Says Menendez Should Resign, Breaking Silence

Senator Cory Booker called on Senator Robert Menendez, his fellow New Jersey Democrat, to resign Tuesday morning, ending days of silence after Mr. Menendez was indicted on bribery charges.

As New Jersey’s junior senator, Mr. Booker often has described Mr. Menendez, the senior senator, as a friend, ally and mentor. His decision to condemn Mr. Menendez, and to join the growing chorus of state and federal officials calling on him to step down, demonstrates the deepening crisis facing a senator who until last week had occupied one of the most powerful and secure positions in American politics.

“The details of the allegations against Senator Menendez are of such a nature that the faith and trust of New Jerseyans as well as those he must work with in order to be effective have been shaken to the core,” Mr. Booker said, adding: “I believe stepping down is best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving.”

Mr. Menendez was charged on Friday with using his power as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to assist the government of Egypt and businessmen in New Jersey in exchange for bribes that included bars of gold bullion, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, exercise machines and more than $500,000 in cash.

Mr. Menendez has been defiant in the face of the charges, saying in a news conference on Monday that prosecutors had framed the allegations against him to be “as salacious as possible” and predicting that he would be exonerated.

Mr. Booker’s statement came as a flood of Democrats, particularly those facing re-election next year in politically competitive states, issued statements calling on Mr. Menendez to step aside. Many top Democrats in New Jersey, including Gov. Philip D. Murphy, have also said Mr. Menendez should resign.

The bond between Mr. Booker and Mr. Menendez has been strong since Mr. Booker’s first months in the Senate, in 2013, when he was one of the first members to co-sponsor a bill by Mr. Menendez to punish Iran for its nuclear weapons program by imposing tougher economic sanctions.

In the decade since, the two senators have joined each other for hundreds of news conferences and other public events, each praising the other as a friend and a defender of New Jersey voters.

The friendship survived an earlier set of corruption allegations against Mr. Menendez, in 2015, when the senator was charged with using his power to help an eye surgeon in New Jersey who later was sentenced to prison for Medicare fraud.

That corruption trial ended in a mistrial in November 2017. The judge later acquitted Mr. Menendez of several charges and the Justice Department dismissed the others.

“Bob is my friend. There’s no senator I’ve worked more closely with. He is an extraordinary senator. I’ve seen him in the most intimate moments and didn’t see a hint of corruption,” Mr. Booker said in an interview with HuffPost in 2019. “I will stand by Bob Menendez.”

The bond between the two senators was displayed on a national stage this January, when they joined President Biden for an event in Manhattan celebrating new federal funding for a long-delayed project to rebuild a train tunnel connecting New York City to New Jersey.

Even as he called on Mr. Menendez to resign, Mr. Booker praised his colleague for his “boundless work ethic,” and sought in his statement to highlight “a friendship that I value.” He also said he supported Mr. Menendez’s efforts “to mount a vigorous defense.”

But in other ways, Mr. Booker underscored the extreme, occasionally tawdry nature of the allegations, describing the federal indictment as containing “shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Tracey Tully contributed reporting.

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