More than two years after U.S. Senator Bob Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges, the New Jersey Democrat finally faces trial next week in a case whose verdict could sway the balance of power in Washington.
Menendez, 63, is accused of taking bribes, including luxury trips and campaign contributions, from a wealthy patron since shortly after he was first elected to the Senate in 2006.
He has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement that the senator “is in good spirits, has faith in the American system of justice, and is confident that when all the facts are heard, he will be vindicated.”
Menendez is running for re-election next year despite the charges.
If he is convicted, he would face significant pressure to resign, and the Republican-controlled Senate could seek to expel him.
His replacement, at least until January, would be named by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican and ally of President Donald Trump. That would add to the Republicans’ 52-48 Senate majority only months after their bid to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law failed by a single vote.
Christie cannot run for re-election due to term limits, and polls suggest Democratic candidate Phil Murphy is likely to succeed him in January.
Senate rules do not require that a convicted member resign, and only a two-thirds vote, which would need the support of more than a dozen fellow Democrats, could force Menendez from office.
The last sitting senator to be convicted of corruption at trial, Harrison Williams, also of New Jersey, refused to step down after a jury found him guilty in the “Abscam” scandal in 1981.
Williams did resign, however, after it became clear the Senate was about to vote to expel him.