US Senator Bob Menendez pleads not guilty to corruption charges
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By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK, Sept 27 (Reuters) -U.S. Senator Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of taking bribes from three New Jersey businessmen, as calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats escalated.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan last week accused Menendez, 69, and his wife of accepting gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for the senator using his influence to aid Egypt's government and interfere with law enforcement investigations of the businessmen.
Menendez entered the plea through his lawyer, Seth Farber, at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona Wang in Manhattan.
Wang said Menendez could be released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond. The senator will be required to surrender his personal passport, but may retain his official passport and travel abroad on official business.
Wearing a pin-striped suit, Menendez smiled and chatted with his lawyers after the hearing before being led out of the courtroom by U.S. marshals. After exiting the courthouse, Menendez and his 56-year-old wife, Nadine Menendez, walked past dozens of reporters without answering questions, got into a black car, and left.
The senator's wife and businessmen Jose Uribe, 56, and Fred Daibes, 66, also pleaded not guilty. Nadine Menendez was released on a $250,000 bond, while Uribe and Daibes were released on bonds of $1 million and $2 million, respectively.
A third businessman, Wael Hana, 40, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday and was released on $5 million bond.
All defendants are set to make their first appearance before U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein, who will oversee the case, on Monday.
Menendez, one of two senators representing New Jersey, stepped down from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as required under his party's rules. But on Monday he said he would stay in the Senate and fight the charges.
More than half of all U.S. Democratic senators - including Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey - have called on Menendez, a powerful voice on foreign policy who has at times bucked his own party, to resign since the charges were unveiled on Friday. Senator Dick Durbin on Wednesday joined fellow Senate Democrats urging Menendez to step down, saying on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he believed the lawmaker could no longer serve.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Menendez would address Senate Democrats on Thursday.
"For senators, there's a much, much higher standard. And clearly when you read the indictment, Senator Menendez fell way, way below that standard," Schumer said.
Democrats narrowly control the Senate with 51 seats, including three independents who normally vote with them, to the Republicans' 49. Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who would appoint a temporary replacement should Menendez step aside, has also called for him to resign.
The indictment contained images of gold bars and cash investigators seized from Menendez's home. Prosecutors say Hana arranged meetings between the senator and Egyptian officials - who pressed him to sign off on military aid - and in return put his wife on the payroll of a company he controlled.
The probe marks the third time Menendez has been under investigation by federal prosecutors. He has never been convicted.
Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward, Rami Ayyub, Patricia Zengerle, Doina Chiacu and Moira Warburton in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Timothy Gardner and Jonathan Oatis
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