US senator Bob Menendez, who has been accused of corruption by federal prosecutors, has denied wrongdoing and said he will not resign.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan, New York, last Friday released a 39-page indictment that accused the senator for New Jersey and his wife of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
Prosecutors also said they found gold bars. They claimed he had received payments in return for wielding his political influence to benefit the government of Egypt and business associates in New Jersey.
In his first public comments on the controversy on Monday, Senator Menendez said money that authorities found in his home came from his savings account and was on hand for emergencies.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.”
He said it may seem old fashioned but money found in his house came from income which he had lawfully derived over 30 years. Senator Menendez forecast he would ultimately be exonerated. He said that “prosecutors get it wrong sometimes” and reiterated he would not be resigning from the US senate.
“I recognise this will be the biggest fight yet, but as I have stated throughout this whole process, I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be the New Jersey’s senior senator”, he said.
However, Senator Menendez did not respond to questions and did not address whether he will seek re-election next year.
Investigators found $550,000 (€515,000) in cash and 13 gold bars during a search of a safe-deposit box and the couple’s home in New Jersey in June last year.
The indictment said that investigators, who had a warrant to search the senator’s home, had found more than $480,000 in cash “hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe”.
Senator Menendez did not comment on the gold bars that investigators say they found. He and his wife as well as three businessmen from New Jersey are scheduled to appear in court in Manhattan in New York on Wednesday to respond to the charges.
Governor of New Jersey Philip Murphy, who is also a Democrat and an ally of Senator Menendez, on Friday evening urged the senator to resign.
Others across the state have also called on Senator Menendez to step down. Senator Menendez said he had worked to hold countries, including Egypt, accountable for human rights abuses.
“If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment, and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent,” he said.
Senator Menendez last week stepped down temporarily from his role as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senate Democratic rules require any member charged with a felony to give up their leadership position, though they can recover it if exonerated.