CNN – The indictment brought against Senator Robert Menendez on Friday is the latest in a series of allegations that have plagued the New Jersey Democrat for years. This marks the second time in a decade that he is faced with corruption charges. The question that remains unanswered is whether the Egyptian government targeted a powerful US senator to further its interests on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are among those charged in a complex scheme to accept bribes, including cash, gold bars, a Mercedes convertible, and mortgage payments. The indictment alleges that Menendez accepted these payoffs in exchange for using his position as a senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to benefit the Egyptian government. It is claimed that he used his political influence to attempt to bypass a State Department hold on US aid to Egypt, advocate for the delivery of ammunition and weapons systems to the Egyptian military, and disclose sensitive information about American and Egyptian personnel assigned to the US Embassy in Cairo.
It is important to note that some of these actions could have been legally carried out by the senator if they were not allegedly tied to monetary and material gains. Menendez responded to the charges, saying, “The excesses of these prosecutors are apparent. They have misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office. On top of that, not content with making false claims against me, they have attacked my wife for the longstanding friendships she had before she and I even met.”
The Egyptian government has not commented on the indictment, and Menendez, his wife, and the other defendants have vehemently denied the charges. As someone with experience in law enforcement and intelligence agencies, I find it striking that the indictment does not discuss what investigators know, if anything, about the involvement of Egyptian officials and whether they were aware of or directed the bribery scheme.
This raises an important question: Could Cairo have used agents in the US to recruit a high-ranking elected official with influence over foreign policy as its puppet? Though shocking, the use of foreign nationals or even Americans with loyalty to a foreign country is a well-known tactic in the world of espionage. Is it possible that Egypt, a country that has received substantial aid from the US, conducts sophisticated intelligence operations on US soil? A recent case suggests this may be true.
In January 2022, an Egyptian-American banker named Pierre Girgis was charged with acting as an agent of the Arab Republic of Egypt in the US. The indictment alleges that Girgis operated under the direction and control of multiple Egyptian government employees to further Egypt’s interests. It claims that Girgis cultivated close relationships with US law enforcement, including members of the NYPD, to gather information on opponents of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the United States.
While Girgis has been charged as an unregistered agent of Egypt, Wael Hana, the businessman accused of bribing Menendez to advance Egyptian interests, has not. Hana, along with two other businessmen, is charged with bribery. The indictment describes Hana as being from Egypt and having close connections with Egyptian officials. Investigators claim that Hana and Nadine Menendez worked together for years to introduce Egyptian intelligence and military officials to Senator Menendez. The indictment outlines how Nadine acted as a go-between, passing messages and collecting bribes.
This raises yet another uncomfortable question: Did Wael Hana play a role in Nadine Arslanian’s romantic relationship with the senator and subsequent marriage? In intelligence operations, finding someone who has the necessary access and vulnerabilities to exploit is crucial. It was widely known that Menendez had faced corruption charges in the past, involving allegations of accepting gifts and trips in exchange for using his influence. While the criminal case ended in a hung jury, the Senate Ethics Committee found Menendez in violation of Senate rules and laws. Menendez has maintained his innocence.
The audacity of such a move is another factor to consider. Targeting a staff member on the Foreign Relations Committee would make sense, but attempting to recruit the committee’s chairman would be a bold move. For a longstanding ally like Egypt, which has played a significant role in US Middle East policy, attempting to target and recruit the chairman of the foreign relations committee would be highly provocative.
The impact of the Menendez case and its aftermath on US-Egyptian relations remains to be seen. As prosecutors prepare for trial, will they uncover any links between the businessmen and individuals connected to the Egyptian government? These are delicate issues that intersect with the interests of the Justice Department, State Department, and the White House. The prosecution will need to navigate carefully to ensure that the trial does not jeopardize a vital diplomatic relationship.