The Justice Department on Thursday issued a new indictment against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and his wife, this time accusing the couple of acting as foreign agents for Egypt.
The court filing adds detail to the astonishing allegations already lodged against the senior New Jersey senator. Those include charges that he and his wife Nadine accepted gold bars, cash, a Mercedes, exercise machines, an air purifier, and other gifts worth hundred of thousands of dollars. In exchange, Menendez allegedly helped an Egyptian-American businessman maintain a monopoly on halal certification for US meat sent to Egypt; interfered with multiple criminal investigations; and used his post as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make sure US arms sales to Egypt went through. The DOJ has also alleged that Menendez secretly provided the Egyptian government with sensitive details on American employees working at the US embassy in Cairo.
The charges that Menendez violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act are not a surprise. Prosecutors said in their initial September 22 indictment of Menendez that he had used his power to advance Egyptian interests in exchange for bribes. But the new indictment adds pressure on Senate Democrats—and Republicans—as they grapple with how to deal with their embattled colleague. Menendez has so far refused to resign from the Senate and still sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, despite stepping down as its chairman. Charges that Menendez used his office and position on the panel to secretly act as an Egyptian agent make his continued service all the more embarrassing for Democrats, complicating their hopes to highlight the indictments and alleged corruption of former President Donald Trump in 2024.
A committee spokesperson declined to comment. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has not publicly urged Menendez to resign, did not respond to questions Thursday.
In the superseding indictment filed Thursday, prosecutors describe a May 21, 2019, dinner meeting at a Washington, DC, steakhouse involving the senator and his now-wife, the Egyptian-American businessman, and an unnamed Egyptian government official. During that meal, Nadine Menendez allegedly asked the men: “What else can the love of my life do for you?”
Over the next two days, the businessman, Wael Hana, allegedly sent Nadine Menendez materials detailing objections raised by the US Department of Agriculture regarding a monopoly the Egyptian government had mysteriously granted him on halal certification. On May 23, Sen. Menendez called a high-ranking USDA official to demand the agency drop its objection. Prosectors say Nadine Menendez was receiving payments from the halal company for a mostly no-show job.
The new indictment also says that around the same time, the unnamed Egyptian official who attended the dinner meeting sought Menendez’s help with a problem: A US citizen had been wounded in 2015 by an Egyptian airstrike using an American-made Apache helicopter. The incident caused members of Congress to object to sending more military aid to Egypt, at least until Egypt offered the victim a better settlement. Prosecutors say Menendez researched the issue online. A week later, the Egyptian official, in an encrypted text, told Hana in Arabic that Menendez “Will sit very comfortably” if he helped resolve the issue. “Consider it done,” Hana replied.
The indictment does not say if Menendez ultimately took action on that particular issue, but it details his consistent efforts to ensure US arms sales to Egypt went through.
A few months later, Menendez visited India on an official trip. Prosecutors say he “offered to provide his assistance to Egypt and to…Hana” during the trip. “Our man [Menendez] is traveling to India after two weeks and he is asking if there is any message we need or anything for [the Halal certification company],” Hana texted the Egyptian official, prosecutors say. This seems to be the same trip during which Menendez somewhat famously proposed to his now-wife and codefendent at the Taj Mahal, after singing to her.
The couple got back to business after their return, prosecutors say. “Anytime you need anything you have my number and we will make everything happen,” Nadine Menendez texted the Egyptian official in March 2020. A few days later, she arranged a meeting between the official and Sen. Menendez regarding stalled talks between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan over an Ethiopian Nile River dam project that was a priority for Egypt. In April 2020, Menendez wrote to the US secretaries of Treasury and State, urging them increase US involvement in the talks.
Government officials are barred from acting as foreign agents, and regular citizens are required to register with the DOJ in order to do so. To prove a violation of foreign lobbying laws, unlike with most statutes, prosecutors have to show defendants actually understood the law and knew their actions were illegal. When it comes to Sen. Menendez, DOJ prosecutors have strong evidence on that front. They note that between 2020 and 2022, the senator repeatedly asked the department to investigate a former House member for allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent. In letters to the DOJ’s head of national security, Menendez cited the law under which he is now charged. If the former member “carried out work that requires registration under FARA,” Menendez wrote, “it is imperative that the Justice Department ensure he is held to account.”
Author: Daniel Friedman