Menendez: Foes are trying to 'silence' me
© Greg Nash
Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Tensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy Senate Democrats ramp up push to limit Biden's war powers MORE (D-N.J.) slammed the Justice Department on Wednesday for indicting him, saying that he believes he will be "vindicated." 
 
"For nearly three years, I have lived under a Justice Department cloud. Today I am outraged that this cloud has not been lifted," Menendez said at a press conference, where he was interrupted multiple times by supporters who cheered him on. 
 
The New Jersey Democrat said federal prosecutors were "tricked into starting this investigation ... with false allegations from those who have a political motivation to silence me." 
 
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Menendez doubled down on his pledge to keep his Senate seat, adding he is "confident at the end of the day that I still be vindicated." 
 
"I am angry and ready to fight," he said, adding he has "always conducted myself in accordance with the law." 
 
Menendez said federal prosecutors didn't know the "difference between friendship and corruption." 
 
Menendez was charged Wednesday with 14 counts, including conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services fraud, in connection with his relationship to Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist and political donor. 
 
Melgen has also been charged. He is scheduled to appear in federal court tomorrow. 
 
The Justice Department alleges Melgen bribed Menendez with gifts, including use of private jets and a Caribbean villa, as well as donations to his legal defense fund set up to pay for legal fees associated with federal and congressional ethics investigations. 
 
The 68-page indictment charges that Menendez hid many of those gifts and did not report any that he received between 2007 and 2012.
 
Reports surfaced ahead of the his press conference that he would temporarily step aside as ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, but Menendez did not address those rumors during his press conference. 
 
Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement to The Hill ahead of Menendez's press conference that while he has "no knowledge of the judicial matters at hand," he expects the New Jersey Democrat "will continue to play a constructive role." 
 
Menendez's charges will likely increase pressure on Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidStrange bedfellows: UFOs are uniting Trump's fiercest critics, loyalists Bottom line Biden's first 100 days is stylistic 'antithesis' of Trump MORE (D-Nev.) to replace him as the committee's top Democrat. Reid’s office didn't respond to request for comment, but Reid told reporters last month that he would "wait and see what happens." 
 
Either way, the indictment could threaten support for an Iran bill that Menendez spearheaded. The legislation, which the committee is expected to vote on April 14, would allow Congress to weigh in on any deal on Iran's nuclear program. 
 
It's unclear when Menendez and his staff found out the senator had been indicted. After the news broke, Tricia Enright, the senator's communications director, tweeted that "neither Menendez nor his legal team have been informed of any action by the grand jury or DOJ." 
 
Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) quickly pounced on news. Spokeswoman Andrea Bozek suggested that the charges show Menendez has "betrayed the trust of New Jersey families." 
 
The NRSC is also trying to tie Menendez's scandal to Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats renew push for permanent child credit expansion The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Israel-Hamas carnage worsens; Dems face SALT dilemma New York, New Jersey, California face long odds in scrapping SALT  MORE (D-Colo.), who is up for reelection next year. NRSC spokesman Matt Connelly said it's time for Bennet "to return the $10,000 donation he received from his indicted friend Senator Robert Menendez."
 
But New Jersey Republicans are so far holding their fire on whether Menendez should step down from his Senate seat. Gov. Chris Christie (R) said that "everybody deserves the presumption of innocence." 
 
“There’s no reason for me or anybody else to get out ahead of themselves," the Republican governor said in a statement to The Hill. 
 
Christie would get to appoint a successor if Menendez did resign, likely giving Republicans a 55th seat in the Senate. 
 
New Jersey Democrats also quickly rallied around Menendez after news of the charges broke. Sen. Cory Booker said that he "won't waver in my commitment to stand alongside my senior senator." 
 
Democratic State Party Chairman John Currie added that he looks "forward to the day when these charges are fully adjudicated.
 
"I trust that Senator Menendez will mount a robust defense against the Justice Department's charges," he said in a statement. "I look forward to a day when these charges are fully adjudicated, and we can put all these allegations behind us." 
 
The Star-Ledger, the state's largest paper, is calling on Menendez to resign
 
"New Jersey would be better off if he would resign and conduct that battle on his own time," the newspaper's editorial board wrote Wednesday. "The state needs a respected senator who is focused on his job, not a tarnished defendant who spends his days fending off credible charges of corruption and raising money for his legal defense." 
 
The newspaper previously backed Menendez during his 2012 reelection campaign. 
 
—Updated at 8:42 p.m.