Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
By Larry Keane
Sen. Bob Menendez
To say U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has been a thorn in the side of the firearm industry would be an understatement. The gun-controlling politician has railed for stricter gun control, called for bans on entire classes of firearms, taken money from gun control groups to advance a gun ban agenda and has done all he could to undo the export reforms for the firearm industry to reduce redundancies and regulatory costs associated with export licensing, while increasing national security.
America might now have a better insight as to why Sen. Menendez wanted more control over those exports.
Serious Corruption Charges
Sen. Menendez, along with his wife Nadine Arslanian and several executives, was indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for a corrupt bribery scheme. Sen. Menendez was charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in cash, gold bars, a Mercedes-Benz C-300 convertible and home mortgage payments. Those payments were allegedly in exchange for the senator using his position to grease the skids for businesses and the government of Egypt between 2018 and 2022.
He’s also charged with promising to disrupt a criminal investigation and prosecution related to one businessman, and the senator recommended President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. Attorney for New Jersey be someone “who Menendez believed could be influenced by Menendez” regarding the prosecution of one of the businessmen he was allegedly involved in the corruption scheme.
The FBI reportedly discovered more than $480,000 in cash in Sen. Menendez’s home while executing a search warrant in June 2022, “much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe.” Agents found envelopes of cash inside jackets bearing the Senate symbol and Sen. Menendez’s name.
The senator and his wife were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit extortion. The charges allege Sen. Menendez took bribes to benefit the businesses and the Egyptian government, “including with respect to foreign military sales and foreign military financing,” over which the senator has oversight as the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, and Ranking Member previously. Sen. Menendez allegedly provided non-public information to intermediary businesses, after which one businessman texted an Egyptian official stating, “The ban on small arms and ammunition to Egypt has been lifted. That means sales can begin. That will include sniper rifles among other articles.”
Gun Control for Thee…
Ironically, Sen. Menendez introduced legislation to prevent arms sales to human rights abusers. S. 1025 would increase Congress’ role in reviewing arms exports. That’s even as the State Department noted significant human rights issues in Egypt in a 2022 report. Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group, reported that Egypt’s government was responsible for nationwide repression and causing one of the country’s worst human rights crises in many decades. He even signed a letter in September to President Joe Biden urging him to reverse the USML-CCL reforms, claiming, “The State Department is also better equipped than Commerce to assess the human rights and security impact of arms exports.”
This might explain why Sen. Menendez despised those firearm export reforms that were finalized under the Trump administration. Those are the U.S. Munitions List to Commerce Control List reforms that transferred licensing of small arms exports from the State Department, over which Sen. Menendez had control, to the Commerce Department. The reforms streamlined the export process, removing duplicative processes but also raised the bar for ensuring end-user checks were vetted before any export could leave the United States.
This isn’t the first time Sen. Menendez has been charged with corruption. A bribery trial in 2017 involved a wealthy Florida eye doctor accused of buying Sen. Menendez’s influence by providing him with luxury vacations and campaign contributions. The judge in that case declared a mistrial after the jury was hopelessly deadlocked after more than six days of deliberations. It is worth noting he was not exonerated of those charges. The DOJ declined to retry him.
Sen. Menendez remains defiant. Due to Senate Democratic Caucus rules, he was forced to resign his position as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, but he has said he “is going nowhere” and promises to run for re-election. He retained Abbe Lowell, the lawyer representing Hunter Biden in his tax and firearm cases, to tackle his own federal corruption charges in court. Pressure is building on Sen. Menendez to walk away from the Senate altogether.
New Jersey’s Gov. Phil Murphy has called on Sen. Menendez to resign. This isn’t because Gov. Murphy has suddenly become a critic of New Jersey’s senior senator. He’s concerned that the corruption scandal could cost antigun politicians a reliable seat. If Sen. Menendez were to resign, Gov. Murphy could appoint a new senator to serve the remainder of his term, which expires in January 2025. He has already gained a primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.). The New York Post reported that New Jersey Republicans are closely watching developments.
The charges are serious and Sen. Menendez will have his day in court to defend against the charges. The firearm industry, which he has used as a political punching bag, is very interested in learning just how gold bars ended up in his home, stacks of cash in his suit coats and why he was so adamant that all firearm exports be run through his committee.