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U.S. files more charges against Menendez after condemning Biden for releasing Maduro ally

The New Jersey senator called the administration’s deal “unconscionable.”

Sen. Bob Menendez
Sen. Bob Menendez | Shutterstock

January 3, 2024 2:41am

Updated: January 3, 2024 2:41am

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey was charged with additional crimes on Tuesday as part of a “Superseding Indictment,” that accuse him of accepting additional gifts in exchange for making public statements that supported the Middle Eastern country of Qatar.

The 50-page indictment, which was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Manhattan based Southern District of New York follows an earlier indictment filed by SDNY that accused the senior NJ senator and his wife, Nadine, of accepting gifts, including gold bars, from three individuals to benefit the Arab Republic of Egypt and State of Qatar.

At the time of the September indictment some analysts noted that the charges came after Menendez criticized Biden for unfreezing $6 billion in funds to release five American prisoners.

The new charges come less than two weeks after the Menendez criticized Biden for engaging in a prisoner exchange with the Venezuelan dictatorship that resulted in the release of a key Maduro ally.

The December prisoner deal resulted in the U.S. release of Maduro ally Alex Saab in exchange for the Venezuelan extradition of Leonard Francis, who faces federal sentencing for what one U.S. official once called, “one of the most brazen bribery conspiracies in the U.S. Navy’s history.”

While Justice Department officials were aiming to extradite Francis, Menendez did not feel the United States benefitted from the negotiation, and he accused the White House of striking “a deal in complete secrecy that will see one of Maduro’s most important allies released from prison.”

The New Jersey senator called the administration’s deal “unconscionable.”

“Nicolás Maduro and his regime continue to demonstrate complete disregard for advancing the democratic reforms they agreed to under the Barbados Agreement,” Menendez wrote in a Dec. 20 statement released on his U.S. Senate website.

“Instead, he is hellbent on strengthening its chokehold over the nation — actively working to undermine the pro-democracy movement, jailing dissidents, and using other oppressive tactics to exact maximum suffering over the Venezuelan people.”

The new superseding indictment, which echoes many of the charges of the original September indictment, which allege Menendez used his “influence and power to breach his official duty in ways that benefitted the Government of Egypt… [and] provided sensitive U.S. Government information and took other steps that secretly aided the Government of Egypt.”

It also alleges Menendez pressured an official at the Dept. of Agriculture to protect a business monopoly,  used his influence to disrupt a criminal investigation and advised President Biden to nominate a U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey he believed would not file charges against the three businessmen who allegedly gave him gifts—Wael Hana, Jose Uribe, and Fred Daibes

Menendez pleaded not guilty in October to the original set of charges filed by SDNY U.S. Attorney Damian Williams on Sept. 24.

That indictment outlined allegations against Menendez for purportedly using his influence to help the three New Jersey businessmen at the center of the allegations in both indictments who were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.

The 2023 and 2024 charges come 8-9 years after Menendez was previously charged by the Justice Department in connection with a bribery scheme for accepting gifts from Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in exchange for using the power of his Senate office to benefit the Palm Beach doctor’s financial and personal interests.

Those charges also came after Menendez defied the Obama administration in its attempts to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, vowing to kill any bill that would establish a formal negotiation.

Other hawkish Democratic senators such as New York’s Chuck Schumer also promised to vote against such legislation at the time.

That year, Menendez was the co-sponsor of two pieces of legislation related to a deal with Iran.

One required that any deal the Obama administration reached at the multinational talks with Iran be submitted to Congress for an up and down vote and the second would have imposed new sanctions on Iran if a deal wasn’t reached.

Menendez was widely viewed as a spur in the Obama White House’s side, and he was cheered by those who opposed the deal with Iran and jeered by Obama allies who wanted to see the deal go through.

He also aired his grievances with the Obama administration’s policies on the Cuba Thaw, and its attempts to renew diplomatic and economic ties with the Castro regime in Havana.

“We got nothing in terms of democracy and human rights,” he said in a January 2015 interview on CNN. We got nothing about political freedoms.”

Among the many steps Menendez took as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was his commitment to block any attempt by the Obama administration to nominate a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.

As part of his recent Dec. 20 statement, Menendez expressed his own concerns about some of the Americans who have been unjustly held captive by the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

While it is imperative that we do everything we can to free Americans being unjustly held abroad, deals like this only incentivize Maduro and thugs like him to take American hostages as leverage for concessions from the American government.

“We cannot continue to give up tools at our disposal to hold the regime accountable. We must ensure that the Maduro regime lives up to its commitment to democratic reform before we engage any further or make any more substantive changes to U.S.-Venezuela foreign policy.”

In October, Menendez pleaded not guilty to acting as a foreign agent and the prior month pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud charges. He has also resisted calls to resign and step down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pursuant to party conference rules.