Bob Menendez, a prominent senator, faces bribery charges

When FBI agents searched the home of Bob Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, in June last year, they found $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in hidden cash. Some of the money, stuffed in envelopes, was hidden in clothes, including jackets with Mr Menendez’s name stitched into them that were hanging in his wardrobe.

The details of the search are laid out in an astonishing indictment unsealed on September 22nd. Mr Menendez, who has resigned as the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, and his wife, Nadine, are accused of a multitude of misdeeds, not least of which is sharing sensitive information with Egyptian officials. They also allegedly accepted gifts of the gold bars in exchange for protecting associates.

The three-count indictment also asserts that Mr and Mrs Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from three New Jersey businessmen, who were also charged. The bribes the couple are accused of taking include home mortgage payments, compensation for a “low or no-show job”, home furnishings and a Mercedes-Benz. Mr Menendez denies any wrongdoing. He said the prosecutors are making “false claims” against him and his wife. He asserts that the federal prosecutors have “misrepresented the normal work of a congressional office”.

What were the bribes for? The indictment asserts that Mr Menendez shared sensitive and non-public information with Egyptian government officials, with Will Hana, one of the charged New Jersey businessmen, acting as go-between.

In May 2018 the senator allegedly told Mr Hana that a government ban on sales of arms and ammunition to Egypt had been lifted. Mr Hana then texted this information to an Egyptian official. That July, Mr Menendez texted his wife to tell Mr Hana that he was going to “sign off” on a sale of $99m-worth of ammunition to Egypt. Mrs Menendez then forwarded the text to Mr Hana, who forwarded it to two Egyptian officials. One responded with a “thumbs up” emoji. Mr Menendez is also accused of ghost-writing a letter lobbying other senators to support lifting a hold on $300m in aid to Egypt.

Mr Menendez is said to have used his position to help the three businessmen. The indictment alleges that the senator pressured an official at the federal Department of Agriculture in order to protect a business monopoly related to halal certification owned by Mr Hana. It also says he attempted to disrupt criminal investigations by New Jersey’s attorney-general related to one of the other two. He recommended President Joe Biden nominate a certain individual as New Jersey’s federal attorney. The indictment says Mr Menendez believed he could influence the nominee to disrupt prosecutions of his business associates (the nominee, who became the state attorney, is not accused of wrongdoing).

This is not Mr Menendez’s first indictment. Scandal and investigation have dogged him for nearly two decades, even as his political career thrived. In 2015 he was accused of accepting free flights on a private plane in exchange for lobbying on the owner’s behalf in a billing dispute and helping to process visas. The case went to trial in 2017, and ended with a hung jury. In 2006, before he became senator, then state attorney, Chris Christie, who would later become New Jersey’s governor and a presidential hopeful, investigated allegations that Mr Menendez profited from rent paid by a charity for which he helped to arrange federal funding. He was never charged with a crime, and said a congressional ethics committee had given its approval.

The senator has “remarkable survival skills”, says Micah Rasmussen, head of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. Part of that is down to his own tenacity. He was barely out of his teens when he was first elected to public office. As mayor of Union City, in north New Jersey, a notoriously corrupt spot, he bravely took on politicians in bed with the Mafia. After his 2017 mistrial he said: “To those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you.” Some New Jersey politicians, including his senate colleague, Cory Booker, attended the trial in support. Voters have had the chance to throw him out, and have not.

These latest charges may be harder to escape (and more may be on the way). “Even by New Jersey standards, this feels different,” says Mr Rasmussen. Mr Menendez is adamant he is innocent. “Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.” He and his wife are expected to appear at a hearing in Lower Manhattan on September 27th.