UNION CITY – Bob Menendez likes taking money out of the bank and having it lying around the house.
Hey, emergencies happen.
“For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies, and because of the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba,” Menendez said Monday morning.
Menendez’s family came to the United States years before Fidel Castro’s takeover in 1959, but even before the communists, the Cuban government was a bit unstable. So, it may have been advisable to have some cash at the ready.
But what about gold bars and a Mercedes?
The senator didn’t talk about that.
Menendez was indicted last week on bribery charges. Federal authorities allege that he and his wife took thousands of dollars in cash, gold bars and a luxury convertible from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for favors and other assistance.
Calls from Phil Murphy and a host of other prominent politicians for Menendez’s resignation began last Friday and continued all weekend.
On this rainy morning, Menendez, who now lives in Bergen County, trooped back to his hometown to speak publicly. The venue was a local branch of Hudson County Community College, which is about five blocks west of the apartment building where Menendez grew up.
What seemed remarkable about today’s event was how alone Menendez was.
The room, naturally, was packed with media types and there were a dozen or so “working people ” standing behind the senator. But where were the politicians? Hudson County certainly has no shortage of them. Wherever they were, most of them were not standing behind – literally and figuratively – the senator.
In truth, Menendez’ comments, which were delivered in both English and Spanish, were kind of lame.
It was already established that he’s not resigning. So, Menendez said what you expected him to say under those circumstances.
Here are the highlights:
Allegations are just that – allegations.
Prosecutors make mistakes.
People have long underestimated him.
Still, defending himself ain’t going to be easy.
“I recognize this will be the biggest fight yet,” he said.
The charges involve assistance the senator allegedly gave the government of Egypt. So, Menendez, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until his indictment, stressed his support for human rights in Egypt and how he has criticized its government.
Then, there was what very much sounded like a campaign speech. He is up for reelection next year.
Referencing the people standing behind him, Menendez talked about the work he has done in the Senate to expand health care, aid immigrants and confront the “gun lobby.”
This was an accurate rendition of the senator’s career, but it seemed somewhat out of place.
You’d think he has more pressing problems than running a reelection campaign.
One would be remiss to overlook the senator’s stated habit of withdrawing large sums of cash.
The indictment specifically says that of the more than $400,000 in cash found in the Menendez home, some of it was in envelopes containing the fingerprints or DNA of the individuals suspected of giving it to him. That could be problematic if this goes to trial.
It wasn’t a problem Monday morning, though.
As his staff said beforehand, the senator would speak in English, then Spanish, but take no questions.
“Will he take questions in Spanish?” someone asked.
Everyone laughed, even some of the senator’s staff, a light moment on a tough day,
The answer by the way was no – in both languages.