Rep. Santos says Sen. Menendez ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ As Democrat Senator Faces Bribery Charges

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By NTD Newsroom
September 25, 2023Politics
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Rep. Santos says Sen. Menendez ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ As Democrat Senator Faces Bribery Charges
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, makes his way to the Senate Chambers at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Aug. 3, 2022. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) has spoken out in defense of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), insisting the senator who was recently charged with bribery should not feel compelled to resign unless he is found guilty in a court of law.

Mr. Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were charged last week with accepting bribes from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for using their position to protect these three businessmen and benefit the government of Egypt. Since being charged, Mr. Menendez has relinquished his chairmanship in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee but he has refused to resign his senate seat.

Mr. Santos reached across the aisle to defend the Democrat senator, saying it’s important that Mr. Menendez is allowed due process and the ability to defend himself from the allegations.

“He’s innocent until proven guilty,” Mr. Santos added. “This—the media has to stop acting like everybody is guilty before they are even judged at by a jury. So no, I think everybody is innocent until proven guilty. When did we walk away from the fabric of our Constitution that everybody has a presumption of innocence?”

Mr. Santos shared a post on X, the social media app formerly known as Twitter, reiterating that he believes the government has the burden of proving its case.

“I don’t care if you are a Rep or Dem we are all afforded the same constitutional rights!” Mr. Santos wrote.

NTD Photo
Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) looks on as the U.S. House of Representatives convenes for the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 3, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Menendez was previously charged in a federal corruption case in 2015. The New Jersey Senate Democrat was accused of taking nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions from a doctor in exchange for taking actions that benefitted the doctor, such as helping to advance a visa application for the doctor’s girlfriend. After a 2018 trial, a jury was unable to reach a verdict against Mr. Menendez and a judge dismissed some of his charges while federal prosecutors dropped the rest.

Santos Facing His Own Charges

Mr. Santos offered his support for Mr. Menendez as he faces his own set of federal criminal charges.

In May, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York accused Mr. Santos of committing unemployment insurance fraud, using campaign funds for personal expenses, and providing Congress with false information about his sources of income.

Like Mr. Menendez, Mr. Santos has refused to resign and has vowed to clear his name of the charges against him.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), has decided not to demand Mr. Santos’s resignation, explaining that he would take away the freshman Republican’s committee assignments, but allow him to remain seated until he has had a trial.

“If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees, they have the right to vote, but they have to go to trial,” Mr. McCarthy said in May.

Mr. McCarthy said this standard of allowing Mr. Santos to serve in Congress until he is found guilty is the same standard given to Mr. Menendez and former Nebraska Republican congressman Jeff Fortenberry when they faced federal criminal charges.

Mr. Fortenberry was charged with facilitating illegal campaign contributions and making false statements to federal investigators. He was convicted last year in a federal court in California. Mr. McCarthy called on Mr. Fortenberry to resign after the verdict and the Nebraska Republican left office on March 31, 2022.

Though he did not demand Mr. Santos’s resignation, Mr. McCarthy ruled out supporting Mr. Santos should he seek reelection.

Some Democrats Seek Resignations Before Trial

In February, before Mr. Santos was ever formally charged, several House Democrats introduced a resolution to force his expulsion. The expulsion resolution gained momentum after Mr. Santos was officially charged, but the Republican House majority instead decided to defer on the expulsion over to a House ethics panel, essentially sidelining the effort to remove Mr. Santos. The move to refer the expulsion resolution over to the House ethics panel passed along party lines, with 221 Republicans supporting the referral while 204 Democrats opposed the decision.

Some Democrats are already calling on Mr. Menendez to resign from his Senate seat.

Democrat New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is among those who have called for Mr. Menendez to resign.

“Under our legal system, Senator Menendez and the other defendants have not been found guilty and will have the ability to present evidence disputing these charges, and we must respect the process,” Mr. Murphy said. “However, 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.”

After Mr. Menendez insisted he would not resign from his Senate seat, Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) launched a campaign to primary his fellow Democrat.

“After calls to resign, Senator Menendez said ‘I am not going anywhere.’ As a result, I feel compelled to run against him. Not something I expected to do, but NJ deserves better,” Mr. Kim announced on Saturday.

Not all Democrats in Congress are calling for Mr. Menendez to step down. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.)—who supported the resolution to expel Mr. Santos—called the charges against Mr. Menendez “very concerning” but stopped short of demanding his resignation.

“Under our legal system, Senator Menendez maintains the presumption of innocence until proven guilty,” Ms. Watson Coleman said in a Saturday press statement. “I pray for the Senator and hope he will make the right decision, one that is in the best interests of the State and all New Jerseyans.”

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