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 mounted from his fellow Democrats.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan last week accused Menendez, 69, and his wife of receiving gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for the senator. The senator used his influence to aid the Egyptian government and interfere with law enforcement investigations of businessmen.
Menendez entered the plea at a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona Wang in Manhattan.
His wife Nadine Menendez, 56, and businessmen Jose Uribe, 56, and Fred Daibes, 66, have also pleaded not guilty. A third businessman, Wale Hana, 40, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
Menendez, one of two senators representing New Jersey, stepped down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in accordance with his party’s rules. But on Monday he said he would stay in the Senate and fight the charges.
More than half of all Democratic U.S. senators — including Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey — have called for the resignation of Menendez, a powerful voice on foreign policy who has at times bucked his own party, since the charges were released Friday.
Democrats control the 51-seat Senate, including three independents who usually vote with them, while Republicans hold 49. New Jersey Gov. Bill Murphy, a Democrat who would be appointed as an interim replacement if Menendez withdraws, has called for his resignation.
The indictment included pictures of gold bars and money investigators seized from Menendez’s home. Prosecutors say Hana arranged meetings between the senator and Egyptian officials – pressuring him to sign military aid – and in return put his wife on the payroll of a company he controlled.
The hearing marks the third time Menendez has been investigated by federal prosecutors. He was never punished.
Reporting by Luke Cohen; Additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Timothy Gardner and Jonathan Otis
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