Nikita Biryukov, New Jersey Monitor
Federal authorities unveiled a superseding indictment Thursday against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez accusing the senator of acting as a foreign agent for Egypt while serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York alleges Menendez, a Democrat, used his power as the committee’s chair to speed billions in military aid to Egypt that had been denied in prior years over the country’s controversial record of human rights violations.
The indictment charges Nadine Menendez — the senator’s wife — and Wael Hana, a North Jersey businessman, arranged a series of meetings and dinners with Egyptian officials and later acted as conduits between the senator and Egyptian officials. In return for Sen. Menendez’s influence on these and other matters, prosecutors say, Sen. and Mrs. Menendez received bars of gold, cash, and other items, accusations first aired in the initial indictment unveiled last month.
“Anytime you need anything you have my number and we will make everything happen,” Nadine Menendez said in March 2020 text message to an Egyptian intelligence official, the indictment alleges.
The indictment accuses Hana and Nadine Menendez of failing to register as foreign agents, and the senator of acting as a foreign agent. Public officials are prohibited from acting as foreign agents. Menendez stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not long after being charged.
Menendez denied any wrongdoing Thursday, as he has since first being charged, and said the new charge was belied by his past efforts to improve democracy in Egypt. He again asked that voters allow him to present his case at trial.
“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,” the senator said. “Piling new charge upon new charge does not make the allegations true. The facts haven’t changed, only a new charge. It is an attempt to wear someone down and I will not succumb to this tactic.”
Thursday’s superseding indictment is the latest hit in a corruption case that has winnowed Democratic support for New Jersey’s senior senator, and it brings a new dimension to the charges against him.
The senator has waved off calls for his resignation issued by top New Jersey Democrats and congressional colleagues, including Sen. Cory Booker and more than half of the state’s House delegation. Rep. Andy Kim (D-03) has launched a campaign for Menendez’s Senate seat.
“As a former national security official who swore an oath to defend our Constitution, I cannot stand by as the Senator representing my family and my state has been accused of acting as a foreign agent,” Kim said in a tweet Thursday. “Given the severity of these charges, the US Senate should vote on expulsion.”
The superseding indictment notes that Sen. Menendez asked U.S. Department of Justice officials to investigate another person — former Rep. David Rivera (R-Florida), not named in the indictment — for working for Venezuela’s Maduro regime in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Menendez wrote a letter in May 2020 to a Department of Justice official saying “the Act is clear that acting directly or indirectly in any capacity on behalf of a foreign principal triggers the requirement to register” under the law.
Menendez is accused of pressuring the U.S. State Department to help speed negotiations over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a major foreign policy issue for Egypt.
The indictment accuses Menendez of sharing unclassified but highly sensitive information about staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and of ghost-writing an Egyptian official’s letter to his Senate colleagues urging the release of $300 million in foreign aid to Egypt.
The aid was initially blocked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) over Egypt’s refusal to compensate April Corley, an American citizen wounded when an Egyptian AH-64 Apache attack helicopter mistakenly targeted a tour group in 2015.
After a May 2019 meeting between Sen. and Mrs. Menendez, Hana, and an unidentified Egyptian official in Washington, D.C., where they discussed Corley, the indictment alleges, Sen. Menendez searched the internet for Corley’s name and read an article about her claim. About a week later, the official texted Hana and said if Menendez resolved the matter, “he will sit very comfortably,” according to the indictment.
“Orders, consider it done,” Hana replied, the indictment says.
Larry Lustberg, an attorney representing Hana, denied his client’s guilt.
“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,” Lustberg said. “As with the other charges in this indictment, Mr. Hana will vigorously defend against this baseless allegation.”
The indictment also claims the senator divulged private information about U.S. military aid to Egypt to Hana, who is accused of sharing that information with Egyptian officials.
Menendez is further accused of intervening to help IS EG Halal, a firm owned by Hana, to win an exclusive Egyptian contract to certify whether Egyptian food exports met halal food standards.
Authorities charge Menendez interceded with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to protect the firm’s monopoly, which prosecutors say was later used to issue bribes to Menendez and his wife.
In addition to the foreign agent charge, Menendez is accused of bribery, honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania), who has been critical of Menendez since the initial indictment dropped, said in a statement Thursday that Menendez should be expelled from the U.S. Senate.
“We cannot have an alleged foreign agent in the United States Senate,” Fetterman said. “This is not a close call.”
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