Sen. Bob Menendez declares innocence on Senate floor


(WASHINGTON) — New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez went to the Senate floor Tuesday to defiantly address accusations of wrongdoing.

Menendez, who has pleaded not guilty to all prior counts, pushed backed on the federal superseding indictment charging him in an alleged corruption scheme with Egyptians and Qataris.

The superseding indictment, filed earlier this month by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, accuses the New Jersey Democrat of making positive comments about Qatar in exchange for items of value, including luxury wristwatches valued between $10,000 and $24,000.

Addressing his Senate colleagues, Menendez said that the latest accusations are baseless and misleading and that the U.S. attorney’s office “is engaged not in a prosecution, but a persecution.”

“I’m innocent — and I intend to prove my innocence, not just for me, but for the precedent this case will set for you and future members of the Senate,” Menendez said.

“I have received nothing, absolutely nothing from the government of Qatar or on behalf of the government of Qatar to promote their image or their issues,” Menendez, who had been chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before stepping aside, said.

He complained bitterly about federal prosecutors filing multiple superseding indictments since September.

“It allows the government to keep the sensational story in the press. It poisons the jury pool and it seeks to convict me in the court of public opinion,” he said.

“They seek a victory, not justice. It’s an unfortunate reality but prosecutors sometimes shoot first before they even know all the facts,” he said.

“The government seeks to use baseless conjecture, not facts, to create the connective tissue to substantiate the allegations,” Menedez said. “They show a picture of watches but not proof of receiving any such gifts.”

Menendez, who choked up while speaking at times, said he is “suffering greatly” as a result of the accusations.

“After 50 years of public service, this is not how I wanted to celebrate my golden jubilee,” he said. “But I have never violated the public trust. I have been a patriot for my country.”

A majority of his Democratic Senate colleagues have previously called on Menendez to resign.

The federal prosecutors who have indicted Menendez declined to comment on his floor speech declaring his innocence.

Menendez, who has been charged with conspiring to act as an agent of Egypt and other alleged offenses, is scheduled to stand trial in May. He had sought a two-month delay to account for what his lawyers described as voluminous evidence that required more time to examine.

Menendez said at his trial he intends to explain why investigators found wads of cash and gold bars in his possession.

“There is no evidence of the giving or receiving of cash and gold bars,” Menendez added.

The senator has said he will not step down from office and has strongly denounced the charges.

ABC News’ Aaron Katersky and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.

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