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NJ Senator Bob Menendez Pleads Not Guilty to Revised Charges

(Bloomberg) -- US Senator Robert Menendez pleaded not guilty Monday to expanded bribery charges that accuse him of accepting gold bars, cash and a Mercedes Benz in exchange for helping three businessmen.

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The New Jersey Democrat entered his plea in New York federal court, where US District Judge Sidney Stein rejected Menendez’s request to delay the May 6 trial date. Menendez, who has served in the Senate since 2006, declined to say after the hearing whether he will seek reelection.

Menendez, 70, has seen his popularity plummet since he was first indicted in September and stepped down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tammy Snyder Murphy, wife of Governor Phil Murphy, is running in the Democratic primary in June for his seat against US Representative Andy Kim. The New York Post reported last week that Menendez won’t seek reelection, citing a person close to him.

“I wouldn’t be announcing it in a courtroom,” Menendez told reporters in the hallway.

The senator was charged March 5 for a fourth time in a revised indictment that added obstruction of justice and other charges. He was charged with his wife, Nadine, and two New Jersey businessmen, Wael Hana and Fred Daibes, who also entered not guilty pleas on Monday.

Read More: US Senator Bob Menendez Indicted Again in US Bribery Case

The new charges followed the guilty plea of a businessman originally indicted with them, Jose Uribe, who is now helping prosecutors in a bid for leniency. Uribe said he bribed the senator with a Mercedes-Benz convertible for help in resolving two legal matters.

Menendez and his wife are accused in the new indictment of directing their lawyers to make false statements to prosecutors about the payments. Prosecutors said Menendez knew “they were not loans, but bribe payments.” Last week, Menendez called the latest indictment a “flagrant” abuse of power by “overzealous prosecutors.”

While the judge said he won’t delay the May 6 trial date, as the defendants requested, he still must rule on the senator’s request that the Speech or Debate Clause of the US Constitution protects members of Congress from prosecution for routine legislative acts.

If Stein rejects Menendez’s motion, he will likely appeal, which would delay the trial. In 2015, he was indicted on corruption charges and unsuccessfully sought dismissal based on speech or debate grounds. Menendez lost an appeal and the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but the process took 18 months. At trial, jurors deadlocked and the US later dropped the case.

16 Counts

Under the new indictment, Menendez now faces 16 counts, including bribery, fraud, extortion, obstruction and acting as a foreign agent of Egypt. His wife is charged with 15 counts.

Prosecutors accused Menendez of secretly working on behalf of Egypt by giving Egyptian officials “highly sensitive” information about personnel at the US embassy in Cairo; ghostwriting a letter on Egypt’s behalf urging his Senate colleagues to release a hold on US aid; and pushing the US State Department to get involved in stalled talks on a Nile River dam project.

Menendez allegedly pressed a US Department of Agriculture official to protect the exclusive right Egypt gave to Hana’s company, EG Halal Certified Inc., to certify US food exports as compliant with halal standards.

Menendez also accepted cash and gold bars from Daibes, who sought an investment from a Qatari fund for a real estate project, the US alleges. In exchange, Menendez made “multiple public statements” supporting the government of Qatar, prosecutors allege. The new indictment charges Daibes with paying bribes to benefit Qatar.

The case is US v. Menendez, 23-cr-490, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

--With assistance from Bob Van Voris.

(Adds case caption and counts Nadine Menendez faces at bottom. An earlier version of this story corrected committee from which Robert Menendez stepped down as chairman.)

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