NEW YORK — Embattled U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty Monday to acting as a foreign agent for Egypt by secretly pulling strings for the authoritarian nation from his influential perch as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Amid deafening calls to resign, the New Jersey Democrat, out on a $100,000 bond, appeared in Manhattan federal court for the second time in as many months to answer to the new criminal charge brought after his indictment in September alongside his wife, Nadine, and three Garden State businessmen on federal bribery offenses.
“Not guilty,” Menendez told Manhattan federal court Judge Sidney Stein when asked how he wished to plead to the damning new charge.
Menendez, 69, stands accused of advancing Egyptian interests in the shadows as he headed the committee that oversees the Senate’s legislation and debate on foreign policy issues. He stepped down from his position after his indictment but has refused to quit government despite calls from more than two dozen of his colleagues. He appears to be the first U.S. politician charged with conspiring to act as a foreign agent.
Nadine and Wael Hana, one of the three businessmen, pleaded not guilty last week to plotting to have Menendez carry out Egyptian interests from January 2018 through June 2022 without registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. As a sitting senator, Menendez couldn’t lobby on Egypt’s behalf regardless.
The new charge followed bribery allegations unveiled against Menendez and his wife, and businessmen Hana, Fred Daibes, and Jose Uribe on Sept. 22, alleging a wide-ranging bribery scheme that saw the couple showered in stacks of cash, gold bullion bars, a Mercedes Benz, and pay for a no-show job in exchange for the senator throwing around his weight for Egypt.
The feds say Menendez abused his authority to facilitate Egyptian military sales and financing and tacitly meddled in multiple negotiations on behalf of the Middle Eastern nation.
He’s accused of trying to convince then-President Donald Trump to appoint a prosecutor that would go easy on one of his associates in a criminal probe, ghostwriting a letter on behalf of Egyptian officials to U.S. senators urging the release of $300 million in aid, and writing former State Sec. Mike Pompeo to intervene in a plan for Ethiopia to build a dam on the Nile River.
Menendez lobbied the USDA to preserve an arrangement in which Hana had exclusive rights over U.S. exports of Halal products to Egypt, pushing back on an official when they voiced concerns, the feds allege.
Prosecutors say he risked the safety of U.S. embassy employees stationed in Cairo in May 2018 by leaking information to Egyptian officials through his wife and Hana detailing the embassy’s occupancy rates.
In charging papers, Nadine is described as the scheme’s linchpin, organizing for her senator husband to meet with Egyptian officials multiple times from 2018, the year they began dating, through last summer. They married in 2020.
Menendez vehemently denies all allegations. He did not immediately have comment.