Former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is joining a chorus of Democrats calling on U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez to resign from the Senate following his indictment on federal bribery and corruption charges.
In a statement to the Miami Herald, Mucarsel-Powell, the most prominent Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Rick Scott for his seat in 2024, said that Menendez, like any other politician charged with a crime, “deserves due process under the law.” Still, she added, the gravity of the charges warrants his resignation.
“The allegations made against Senator Menendez are specific, serious, and disturbing,” she said. “I believe Senator Menendez must step down to honor the office he’s served for so long and to honor the public trust the people of New Jersey placed on him.”
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and the chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was charged on Friday with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, jewelry, gold and other valuables in exchange for providing sensitive information to the government of Egypt and aiding businessmen in New Jersey.
The indictment lists three other defendants, including Menendez’s wife Nadine Menendez and three New Jersey businessmen.
Menendez has maintained his innocence and has accused prosecutors of framing the allegations against him to be “as salacious as possible.”
A spokesperson for Scott’s reelection campaign said that, if true, the allegations against Menendez effectively disqualify him from holding public office, but noted that the decision is ultimately up to Menendez and his constituents.
“That’s up to Sen. Menendez and the people of New Jersey but certainly if even half of what’s outlined in the indictment is true, he shouldn’t be holding public office,” Scott’s communications director Priscilla Ivasco said. “The people of New Jersey deserve a Senator who puts their interests first, not one who stuffs his pants with gold bars and advocates for the interests of a foreign government.”
It’s not the first time the New Jersey senator has faced accusations of criminal conduct. He was charged in 2015 with taking bribes from a prominent South Florida eye doctor in exchange for political favors. That trial ended in 2017 with a hung jury. The judge in the case ultimately acquitted Menendez of several charges and the Justice Department eventually dismissed the others.
Unlike with the 2015 indictment, when Menendez’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate largely stood by him, a growing number of his colleagues have called on Menendez to step aside in the face of the latest charges. Among them is U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, New Jersey’s junior senator and a close ally of Menendez.
Menendez, for his part, has refused to resign his Senate seat, expressing confidence that he will ultimately be cleared of the charges.
“The allegations leveled against me are just that: allegations,” Menendez said at a Monday press conference in Union City, N.J. “I recognize that this will be the biggest fight yet. But as I have stated through this whole process, I firmly believe that when all of the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I will still be New Jersey’s senior senator.”
Mucarsel-Powell, who previously represented a key South Florida U.S. House district that spanned from southern Miami-Dade County to Key West, received a $2,500 contribution from Menendez’s leadership PAC for her 2020 reelection bid, putting her on a list of dozens of Democratic candidates whom the group has donated to over the years.
In recent days, some Democrats — most notably U.S. Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania — have said that they will return campaign contributions from Menendez’s PAC. Asked whether Mucarsel-Powell would do the same, a spokesperson for her campaign noted that her House campaign committee was no longer active.
“The 2020 congressional account has long been closed,” Michelle Gajewski, the spokesperson, said.