Sen. Bob Menendez’s Egypt trip planning got ‘weird,’ Senate staffer recalls at bribery trial

NEW YORK — A Senate staffer testified at a planned bribery trial Senator Bob Menendez The 2021 trip to Egypt and Qatar became “weird” after the Democrat ordered Egypt to be involved in the process, a Senate aide testified Monday.

Sarah Arkin, a senior staffer at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, testified as a government witness at a trial over bribes of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold and cash allegedly paid to the senator in exchange for benefits he allegedly gave to three New Jersey businessmen had provided. from 2018 to 2022.

Among the favors he is said to have granted included helping Egyptian officials in exchange for one businessman obtaining a monopoly on the certification that meat sent to Egypt met Islamic dietary requirements.

Then, prosecutors say, he helped a prominent New Jersey real estate developer by acting favorably with the Qatari government so the businessman could strike a lucrative deal with a Qatari investment fund.

In addition to charges of bribery, fraud, extortion and obstruction of justice, Menendez is also accused of acting as a foreign agent of Egypt.

Menendez, 70, and two businessmen who allegedly paid him bribes have pleaded not guilty. A third testified earlier during the trial, which entered its seventh week. When Menendez was indicted last fall, he held the powerful position of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he relinquished soon after.

In her testimony, Arkin said Menendez asked Senate staff to contact an individual they did not know at the Egyptian embassy when they planned the weeklong trip to both countries, even though such excursions were usually scheduled through the Department of State and the US. authorities.

Although foreign embassies were routinely notified of any U.S. lawmakers traveling their way, Arkin portrayed it as unusual that a U.S. senator’s trip would be planned in coordination with a foreign embassy.

Later, Arkin said, she was told that Menendez was “very upset” after being informed that two Egyptians, including the Egyptian ambassador, had complained that she had informed Egyptian officials that Menendez had been “undermining” the Egyptian president during the trip. would not meet any circumstance’. .” She said she was told the senator did not want her to travel.

She testified that she told Menendez that the claim that she had told someone not to meet with the Egyptian president was “absolutely untrue” and that she would never use strong language, such as “under no circumstances,” even if he refused to meet anyone. .

Arkin said another Senate staffer who was planning the trip wrote her that “all this Egypt stuff is really weird.”

“It was weird,” she said. Arkin said she was “not an idiot” and “wouldn’t have phrased anything that way,” saying the senator would “under no circumstances” meet with a foreign president of a country important to the United States.

Questioned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal, Arkin also said Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, “tried to be involved in the planning” and had “a lot of opinions” about what she wanted to do on the trip.

Nadine Menendez has also pleaded not guilty in the case, but her trial has been postponed so she can recover from breast cancer surgery.

As he left the courthouse Monday, Menendez said Arkin could have gone on the trip if she wanted to, but she “chose not to go.”