Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey pleaded not guilty Monday to a new federal indictment that accuses him of illegally conspiring to be an agent of Egypt while he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
It was Mr. Menendez’s second not guilty plea in a month after he and his wife, Nadine Menendez, were accused of being at the center of a wide web of political corruption. The pair are accused of accepting bribes in exchange for Mr. Menendez’s efforts to increase aid and arms sales to Egypt while working to quash criminal investigations into associates in New Jersey.
The bribery-related charges were first announced last month by federal prosecutors in Manhattan; a revised indictment released on October 12 included the new charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
Ms. Menendez, 56, pleaded not guilty to the new conspiracy charge last week, but Mr. Menendez was instead granted a release on Monday so he could be in Washington for legislative work.
His appearance on Monday lasted less than five minutes, and he left the Lower Manhattan courthouse without answering questions from reporters.
Two hours later, Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, released a statement saying he had “done nothing wrong” and remained confident he would be “found not guilty” once all the facts were presented.
“All my life I have been loyal to only one country – the United States of America, the land my family chose to live in democracy and freedom,” Menendez, 69, said.
“The government is engaging in primitive hunting where the predator chases its prey until it is exhausted and then kills it,” he added. “That tactic won’t work.”
Three New Jersey businessmen, including Wale Hanna, an Egyptian-born American citizen who founded a halal certification company based in Edgewater, New Jersey, also pleaded not guilty to participating in the corruption scheme.
Investigators found gold bars and $550,000 in cash during searches of the Menendez home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, and a safe. Prosecutors have asked a judge to seize their home and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, which the government says was given to them as a bribe.
Last week, Judge Sidney H. Stein refused to allow Mr. Hanna to remove the electronic monitor he must wear as a condition of his release on $5 million bail.
Judge Stein called the request premature, noting Mr. Hanna’s $25 million in assets and his extensive ties to the Egyptian government and, in particular, to Egyptian intelligence officers.
“So while we hope that Mr. Hanna has no intention of fleeing the United States,” Judge Stein said, “if he did try to do so, common sense would tell you that he might have the help of people to to provide him with a passport, so simply handing over his travel documents is not enough.
Mr. Menendez, who until last month was chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has remained defiant in the face of the federal charges, ignoring calls from dozens of former allies for him to resign.
Judge Stein set May 6 as the trial date; Defense lawyers and prosecutors agreed last week to stop the trial’s fast clock until then to allow enough time to review roughly 7.7 million pages of discovery records gathered from 50 electronic devices analyzed during the investigation.
Paul M. Monteleoni, an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said that would give the parties time to review discovery, file motions, prepare for trial “and potentially discuss the disposition of the case.”
On Monday, a coalition of 25 organizations, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Center for American Progress, the Government Oversight Project and Public Citizen, sent a letter to Mr. Menendez demanding that he resign.
“These allegations paint a damning picture of a senator who has seemingly repeatedly placed his personal interests above the national security and democratic process of the United States,” the letter said.
But the senator, who planned to run for re-election to a fourth full term next year, gave no indication he intended to step down. A fundraiser he held last weekend at an exclusive beachfront resort in Puerto Rico drew few donors, but he has an estimated $8.6 million in campaign cash that can be used to pay legal expenses. A separate defense fund he set up over the summer has raised $275,000 from about 30 individuals and organizations, Senate records show.
Last month, the fund returned a $5,000 donation from a New Jersey law firm run by Donald Scarinci, a longtime friend of Mr. Menendez. Mr. Scarinci said he was not sure why the donation was rejected, but suggested it might be because it came from his company and not his personal bank account.
“Bob is a lifelong personal friend of mine,” Mr. Scarinci said in an email. “As his friend, I am there for him in his time of need. I fully intend to contribute to his defense fund.
Kayla Guo contributed reporting from Washington.