The indictment unveiled on Friday against Sen. Robert Menendez marks another chapter in a series of troubling allegations that have dogged the New Jersey Democrat for years, marking the second time in a decade that he has faced corruption charges. The question the indictment leaves unanswered is, did the Egyptian government target an influential United States senator to do its bidding on Capitol Hill?
Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are charged along with three businessmen in a complicated plot to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes including cash, gold bars, a Mercedes convertible, even mortgage payments. According to the indictment, Menendez accepted these payoffs in return for using his position as a United States senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because he agreed to use “his influence and power and breach his official duty in ways that benefited the Government of Egypt.”
It is alleged that Menendez used his political position to attempt to break a State Department “hold” on US aid to Egypt, push for the delivery of ammunition and weapons systems to the Egyptian military, and passed sensitive information about American and Egyptian personnel assigned to the US Embassy in Cairo. It should be noted that some of these actions are things that the senator could have done legally if they were not allegedly in return for cash and gold.
“The excesses of these prosecutors is apparent,” Menendez said in a statement on Friday. “They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office. On top of that, not content with making false claims against me, they have attacked my wife for the longstanding friendships she had before she and I even met.”
The Egyptian government has not commented on the indictment and Menendez and his wife, as well as the others charged, have strongly denied the charges.
On the latest allegations, as someone who worked at the FBI, in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau, I am struck by the elephant that seems to be missing from the room: Nothing in the indictment describes what investigators know, if anything, about the role of Egyptian officials and whether they had direction or knowledge over the bribery scheme. Why is this important? Because the possible subtext of this story is that Cairo may have used agents in the US to try and recruit the top elected legislative official with influence over foreign policy to be its puppet. Yes, when you say it out loud it is shocking.