© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) walks through the Senate subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez on Monday ignored calls to resign from his seat, denying wrongdoing and vowing to stay in Congress after prosecutors charged him and his wife with taking bribes from three New Jersey businessmen.

Some elected officials, including the Democratic governor of Menendez’s state of New Jersey, have publicly urged him to step down. Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker and senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC late on Monday that she also felt Menendez should resign.

His decision to remain in the Senate may complicate his party’s efforts to maintain its narrow 51-49 majority in that chamber, although New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.

Menendez has 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 take it back if they are found not guilty.

“I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator,” Menendez, 69, said in his first public remarks since he was charged on Friday.

U.S. prosecutors said Menendez accepted gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for wielding his influence to aid the Egyptian government and interfere with law enforcement investigations into the businessmen.

Sherrod Brown became the second Senate Democrat to call for Menendez to resign, saying in a statement: “Senator Menendez has broken the public trust and should resign from the U.S. Senate.” U.S. Senator John Fetterman, a Pennsylvania Democrat, on Saturday urged Menendez to resign in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. Later on Monday, Democratic U.S. Senator Peter Welch also said he encouraged Menendez to resign because the allegations against him had “compromised his capacity” to be an “effective senator.”

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre did not weigh in on Menendez’s decision to remain in Congress, but told reporters on Monday: “We believe the senator stepping down from his chairmanship was the right thing to do.”

Prosecutors want Menendez to forfeit assets including his home, a 2019 Mercedes-Benz (OTC:) convertible and $566,000 in cash, gold bars and bank account funds.

U.S. Representative Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat, said on Saturday in a post on X that the allegations against Menendez had compelled him to take on the senator in a primary ahead of the 2024 election. Menendez has not publicly announced if he is seeking re-election.

Menendez said he has worked to hold countries, including Egypt, accountable for human rights abuses and that the cash in his home was withdrawn from his accounts and kept for emergencies.

“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. He did not respond to shouted questions.

The probe is the third time Menendez has been under investigation by federal prosecutors, though he has never been convicted.

Menendez, his wife Nadine Menendez and the businessmen are expected to appear in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday. The charges Menendez and his wife face carry a sentence of up to 45 years in prison, though judges in these types of cases usually impose less than the maximum possible sentence.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, has been a powerful voice on foreign policy. He has sometimes been at odds with his own party, critical of moves by President Barack Obama’s administration to ease relations with Cuba and the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. Menendez was also part of several failed efforts to overhaul the U.S. immigration system.

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