(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy called on his state’s senior senator, Bob Menendez, to resign hours after Menendez was indicted on bribery charges.
Murphy, a fellow Democrat, could appoint a successor should Menendez agree to step down. In a statement released late Friday afternoon, the governor said the allegations were “deeply disturbing.”
“These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Murphy added.
He said that while Menendez, who has been the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and his co-defendants were entitled to defend themselves, “the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state. Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.”
The sweeping federal charges accuse Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, of doing favors for three businessmen who showered them with gifts of gold bars, hundreds of thousands in cash, mortgage payments and a Mercedes convertible.
Read More: Senator Menendez Charged With Taking Bribes of Gold Bars, Cash
The indictment in New York federal court said that Menendez abused his power to secretly benefit Egypt as well as the businessmen, including one who sought help with his own federal indictment. Another businessman sought the senator’s assistance to protect his company, the only authorized importer of halal meat to Egypt, according to court papers.
Menendez, who is up for re-election next year, has denied the allegations and pledged to fight them.
By Friday evening, several other prominent New Jersey Democrats, including Representatives Andy Kim, Bill Pascrell and Mikie Sherrill — a former federal prosecutor — also said he ought to resign.
Their colleague Frank Pallone said in a statement that it was “difficult to see how he can continue his service in the midst of these charges. He should resign in the best interest of our state.”
After Murphy issued his statement, Menendez released a defiant one of his own: “It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat. I am not going anywhere,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Menendez “had rightly decided” to give up his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations panel “until the matter has been resolved.”
Earlier: Senator Menendez Bribery Case Dropped by Justice Department
Schumer also praised Menendez, saying he “has been a dedicated public servant.”
When he faced charges in an earlier unrelated corruption case, Menendez gave up his post as the top Democrat on the committee. His 2017 trial ended in a hung jury and prosecutors later dropped the case.
Under the US Constitution, a senator cannot be removed from office unless two thirds of the chamber votes for expulsion.
The Senate Ethics Committee, while not mentioning Menendez by name, said in a statement on Friday night that “in response to repeated requests from the press, we want to reaffirm that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics does not comment on matters pending before the committee or matters that may come before the committee.”
According to the Senate’s website, 15 members have been expelled since 1789. All but one were removed because of their allegiance to the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Several other senators resigned after charges were brought against them. That includes Senator Harrison Williams, a New Jersey Democrat who had been convicted in the Abscam bribery scandal. He resigned in 1982.
--With assistance from Laura Litvan.
(Updates with Ethics Committee, in 15th paragraph.)
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