The New York Times is calling for New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez to resign in the face of criminal charges of bribery.
“He would be doing a disservice to New Jersey by clinging to power as a disgraced politician. His colleagues in the Senate should demand that he step aside,” the editorial board wrote Thursday and published in Friday’s print edition.
Menendez pleaded not guilty to 14 counts on Thursday, including eight counts of bribery, concerning his dealings with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist he’s repeatedly called a friend.
A 68-page indictment released this week outlines nearly $1 million Menendez enjoyed in lavish trips, political contributions and other perks paid for by Melgen and a number of ways in which Menendez allegedly used his Senate office to intervene on Melgen’s behalf, including to help secure visas for three of Melgen’s girlfriends.
The two-term senator has repeatedly asserted his innocence and charged during a Wednesday press conference that prosecutors “don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something that is improper.”
The New York Times editorial board, however, is not convinced, writing that the indictment should spark “outrage” in readers because of the “brazen pattern of gifts and favors” it outlines.
“He’s certainly entitled to make that case to a jury,” the board wrote of Menendez’s claim of friendship. “Considering the breadth and nature of the allegations, though, it’s hard to imagine that he will have enough time to adequately represent his constituents while he braces for a legal fight that could drag on for years.”
While he’s stepped down as ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he’s also said he won’t resign from office. But in a sign of how troubling the indictment could become for him, two Democratic Senators, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado, moved to distance themselves from the scandal and announced this week they’d give up the money Menendez contributed to their campaign funds
And Menendez’s hometown paper, the Star-Ledger, also called for him to resign this week in an editorial that said that many voters in New Jersey have “buyers’ remorse” after electing the senator to a full term in 2012.
“The state needs a respected senator who is focused on his job, not a tarnished defendant who spends his days fending off credible charges of corruption and raising money for his legal defense,” the board wrote.