The Chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was indicted Friday over bribes he allegedly took — in one case involving gold bars — in exchange for favorable treatment of the Egyptian government. The indictment says Menendez, through his wife, took cash in exchange for greasing the wheels of major arms sales to the Egyptian dictatorship.
“Menendez has been feeding at the Egyptian trough with lavish bribes in exchange for pushing unquestioning military support to the dictatorship.”
The Foreign Relations Committee reviews U.S. arms sales abroad and can block the deals. The indictment says, “At various times between 2018 and 2022, MENENDEZ also conveyed to Egyptian officials … that he would approve or remove holds on foreign military financing and sales of military equipment to Egypt in connection with his leadership role on the SFRC” — the Foreign Relations Committee. In exchange, the indictment says, his wife was promised money.
While Menendez has issued narrow criticisms of Egypt on human rights grounds — like its treatment of minority Christians and political dissidents — he has been a stalwart advocate for selling weapons to the country.
“Menendez has been feeding at the Egyptian trough with lavish bribes in exchange for pushing unquestioning military support to the dictatorship, all the while pretending to be a champion of democracy and human rights,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy in the Arab World Now, said about the allegations.
Menendez, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has forcefully denied the Justice Department’s charges.
One of the blocks on arms sales Menendez lifted during the period covered by the indictment, from 2018 to 2022, was put in place by the Trump administration. While generally friendly with the Egyptian regime, President Donald Trump cut military aid in 2017 over its dire human rights record, including its detention of 60,000 political prisoners and use of torture.
Former Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., who said Menendez should resign, tweeted that he had tried to put provisions that took on Egypt in House bills, but they were cut from legislation in the Senate.
“When I was in Congress, I got several tough-on-Egypt provisions into House-passed defense bills, which were then stripped in the Senate,” Malinowski wrote on X. “I still don’t know why. But the idea that the chairman of the SFRC may then have been in a corrupt relationship with Egypt is horrifying.”
“Appreciated” Meeting Sisi
Menendez has maintained a warm relationship with Egypt’s dictatorship, showering the government with praise. On October 14, 2021 — years after the indictment says his wife became entangled with a conduit for Egyptian bribes — Menendez met with Egypt’s authoritarian ruler, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“US Senator Menendez hails Egypt’s role in countering terrorism, establishing tolerance in meeting with Sisi,” one headline in Egypt’s tightly controlled press blared. The article said, “He also hailed Egypt’s significant domestic efforts to achieve comprehensive and sustainable development for the benefit of citizens.”
Although Menendez did not issue a formal press release about the high-level meeting, a tweet from the X account linked to his Foreign Relations Committee seat confirms the broad contours. “Appreciated meeting with President Al Sisi today. We discussed our shared interests on security, protecting religious minorities like Coptic Christians, economic cooperation,” the post says. “I also urged full implementation of Egypt’s new human rights strategy.”
Experts say that Menendez has maintained a warm relationship with the Egyptian regime. Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, said, “Having a chair in Senate Foreign Relations that is friendly with the regime in Egypt has played a disproportionate role in why there’s been so little congressional pressure on Egypt’s horrific human rights record.”
The Armenian Connection
The Justice Department indictment alleges that Menendez passed information to his wife about his intention to sign off on a $99 million weapons sale to Egypt. His wife forwarded the text to an associate who forwarded it to an Egyptian official, who replied with a thumbs-up emoji.
Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, is listed in the indictment as a co-conspirator accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using her husband’s political influence to benefit the Egyptian government. Born to Armenian parents, Nadine Menendez fled Lebanon during the civil war.
Menendez has emerged as an ardent advocate of Armenia. On Thursday, he introduced legislation that would provide aid to the Central Asian country amid its invasion by neighboring Azerbaijan.
Menendez’s advocacy for Armenia has at times gone beyond established facts. In a January hearing, he accused Ukraine of selling white phosphorus to Azerbaijan, saying the country used the chemical weapon to kill Armenians.
Menendez, for his part, has responded to the indictment forcefully.
“Those behind this campaign,” Menendez said in a press release, “simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction.”