The indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez on Friday accuses one of the most powerful senators shaping American foreign affairs of using his perch to enrich himself and exploit the complicated relationship between the United States and Egypt.
It is a story about guns, money and power that strikes at a fraught sector of American diplomacy.
Menendez denies any wrongdoing, saying prosecutors “misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office” and attacked him and his wife. But if the allegations are proven, they will represent a damning account of how American policy toward an autocratic ally was compromised for years for venal reasons.
Egypt receives about $1.3 billion per year in foreign military financing, but by law, tranches of the aid are conditioned upon Egypt’s progress on human rights concerns, as determined by the State Department. Whether Foggy Bottom clears the aid is often subject to a regular tug-of-war between lawmakers, the advocacy community and the executive branch.
Traditionally, the State Department has honored requests to delay grants and weapons sales from the chair or the ranking member of the Senate committee.
Menendez, who has served as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee since 2018, has often been a public critic of the Egyptian government, rapping the Trump administration for inviting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for a state visit in 2019 and pressing then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to raise human rights concerns with the leader.
But federal prosecutors claim Menendez was playing a different role behind the scenes.
In an indictment published Friday, prosecutors said Menendez accepted money, a luxury car and gifts including gold from three New Jersey businessmen — Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes — in return for helping them and Egypt’s repressive regime.
Prosecutors also claim the New Jersey Democrat gave sensitive information about U.S. diplomats in Cairo “that secretly aided the Government of Egypt” and “improperly advised and pressured” a U.S. agricultural official to safeguard a contract for Hana to be the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt, according to the indictment.
Allegedly Menendez, starting in mid-2018, privately maintained close relations with Egyptian officials and businesspeople and readily shared sensitive information with his associates about U.S. policy toward Cairo.
In May 2018, Menendez allegedly disclosed to Hana at a private dinner that a U.S. government ban on sales of small arms and ammunition to Egypt has been lifted, which Hana passed on to the Egyptian official.
Later that month, Menendez allegedly ghost-wrote Cairo’s lobbying pitch to other U.S. senators seeking support for the release of $300 million in U.S. aid to Egypt.
In July, after meeting with Egyptian military officials, Menendez allegedly had his wife Nadine tell Hana that he was signing off on the sale of 46,000 120mm target practice rounds and 10,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth $99 million.
“NOTE: These tank rounds are for tanks they have had for many years. They are using these in the Sinai for the counter-terrorism campaign,” Menendez allegedly said in a text to Nadine, which she forwarded to Hana.
The State Department two months later announced it had approved the sale of the package of General Dynamics-made high-explosive and armor-piercing rounds, to help Cairo fight Islamic State militants, and the target rounds, to train M1 Abrams tank crews.