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New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez to seek independent reelection bid amid corruption trial

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez leaves the Manhattan federal court after the second day of jury selection in his trial on May, 14, 2024, in New York.
Stefan Jeremiah
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez leaves the Manhattan federal court after the second day of jury selection in his trial on May, 14, 2024, in New York.

TRENTON, N.J. — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is on trial on federal bribery charges in New York, has filed to run as an independent candidate for reelection.

Menendez, 70, had said this year that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to pursue a fourth term, and on Monday he filed paperwork with the state to launch an independent bid on the ballot. He had previously said an independent run for office was possible.

Asked on his way into court Monday if he's changing political parties, Menendez said in Spanish, “no, independent doesn't mean I'm changing."

Later Monday, Menendez told reporters who asked him about his run that he’d done a lot for the state of New Jersey, particularly during the pandemic and after Superstorm Sandy.

Menendez listed his party in documents filed with the state as “Menendez for Senate.”

The political stakes are high, given the Democrats’ narrow control in the Senate, where New Jersey is normally safely in Democratic hands. It’s unclear how much support Menendez could siphon from U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, who is in a favorable position to win the Democratic primary, which ends Tuesday. The GOP hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in the state since 1972.

Kim, a three-term congressman from the 3rd District, said Menendez was running for himself, not the public.

“Americans are fed up with politicians putting their own personal benefit ahead of what's right for the country,” Kim said.

Menendez, his wife, Nadine, and three business associates were charged last year by federal prosecutors in New York with running a scheme in which Menendez promised to use his office to help the businessmen in return for gold bars, cash, a mortgage payment on his wife's house and a luxury car. The Menedezes and two of the business associates have pleaded not guilty. A third pleaded guilty and agreed to testify.

In court, prosecutors have argued that Menendez sought to sell his office to enrich himself, helping business associate Wael Hana get a lucrative monopoly on certifying meat exports to Egypt as meeting Islamic guidelines, and assisting Fred Daibes with investments linked to a member of the Qatari royal family.

Menendez has denied there was any corrupt scheme. His attorneys said his conduct constituted carrying out diplomacy and working on behalf of constituents. The gold bars belonged to his wife, and the cash laying around his house was a longtime habit stemming from his parents' escape from Communist Cuba, according to his attorney.

Daibes and Hana are on trial alongside Menendez. Nadine Menendez is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, the senator has said, and is expected to go on trial later this summer.

Menendez has held elected office for most of his life, getting on the Union City, New Jersey, school board just two years out of high school. Since then, he has been elected to office in the Legislature, as a U.S. representative and in 2006 as a U.S. senator.

He survived politically after another federal trial — that time in New Jersey on charges that he used his office to help a friend defraud Medicare — in 2017. It ended in a deadlocked jury, and prosecutors declined to hold another trial. In 2018, with the backing of the state's Democratic establishment, Menendez won reelection.

But his political fortunes turned after the September 2023 indictment when allies across the state, including Gov. Phil Murphy, and in the Senate called for his resignation.

Menendez vowed to beat the charges against him, and like last time, promised to stick around. But Menendez didn’t appear on ballots for Tuesday’s primary. By filing as an independent, he’s aiming for November instead.

Two Republican candidates, Curtis Bashaw and Christine Serrano Glassner, have garnered the most attention. Bashaw, a southern New Jersey hotel developer, has won significant county party support, while Serrano Glassner has former President Donald Trump's endorsement.

Sen. Steve Daines, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Menendez's decision “makes that race a little more interesting.”

Democrats said they're confident their party will keep control of the seat.

Sen. Gary Peters, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, had not heard of Menendez’s decision when a reporter asked him about the impact it would have on the race: “We’re going to win. A Democrat will win.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]