US Senator Bob Menendez entered a not-guilty plea on Wednesday to federal accusations of bribery.
Prosecutors say that he had accepted cash and gold bars as bribes in exchange for using his political position to advance Egyptian interests and covertly help out local companies.
Menendez made his first court appearance in Manhattan’s federal court a few days after prosecutors unsealed an indictment that alleged extensive misconduct by the New Jersey Democrat, who was forced to resign as the head of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee after being charged.
Menendez was ordered released on a $100,000 bond, and he must surrender any personal passports but will be allowed to hold on to an official passport that would allow him to travel outside the US for government business.
The judge ordered him to abstain from any contact with his co-defendants except for his wife. He is also not permitted to have contact with Senate staffers who know about the facts of the case outside of the presence of lawyers.
Authorities say they found nearly $500,000 in cash, much of it hidden in clothing and closets, as well as more than $100,000 in gold bars in a search of his New Jersey home that Menendez, 69, shares with his wife.
Menendez says accusations of bribery are “baseless”
Menendez has said allegations that he abused his power to line his pockets are baseless. He has said he is confident he will be acquitted and has no intention of leaving the Senate.
In his first public remarks following last week’s indictment, he said on Monday that the cash found in his home was drawn from his personal savings accounts over the years and that he kept it on hand for emergencies.
“For 30 years,” Menendez said, “I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings accounts, which I have kept for emergencies and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.”
To those who have called for his resignation, he said: “The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system.”
Menendez a critic of Turkey and supporter of Greece and Cyprus
Earlier in the week, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the departure of Menendez as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee saying that Turkey’s chances of acquiring F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. have been boosted.
“One of our most important problems regarding the F-16s were the activities of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez against our country,” Erdogan told journalists.
Ankara has been seeking to buy 40 new F-16s, as well as kits to upgrade its existing fleet.
The request was backed by the White House but ran into opposition in Congress, where Menendez raised concerns about Turkey’s human rights records. He also blamed Ankara for fractious relations with neighboring Greece.
Menendez has often criticized Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan and has supported Greece and Cyprus publicly.
He has stressed the significance of strengthening U.S.-Greek relations and as well as the importance of key legislative efforts, such as the Eastern Mediterranean Security & Energy Partnership Act and the US-Greece Defense & Interparliamentary Partnership Act.
Menendez has also noted the importance of reducing regional dependence on fossil fuels, promoting security, and fostering prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean.