Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez announced Thursday that he is “hopeful” he will run for a fourth term in New Jersey as an independent, as he faces federal bribery charges and hopes to be exonerated before the general election.

Menendez said in a nine-minute video announcement, which was posted and then quickly taken down Thursday afternoon, that he will not be running for re-election as a Democrat ahead of Monday’s primary filing deadline.

“Unfortunately the present accusations I am facing, of which I am innocent and will prove so, will not allow me to have that type of dialogue and debate with political opponents that have already made it the cornerstone of their campaign. New Jerseyans deserve better than that,” Menendez said.

“I am hopeful that my exoneration will take place this summer and allow me to pursue my candidacy as an independent Democrat in the general election,” he later added.

Menendez, who was first elected in 2006, has denied any wrongdoing in the case, which has him facing 18 charges for allegedly obstructing justice and taking bribes in the form of cash, gold bars, a luxury car and more, and that he used his power to benefit Egypt. Menendez and his wife were first indicted in September and have since faced additional charges, including obstruction of justice.

After he was indicted in September, Menendez stepped down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. More than 30 of his Senate Democratic colleagues, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, have called on Menendez to resign. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, however, has consistently declined to call on Menendez to resign, though he has said the senator’s conduct fell “way, way below” the standard of the office.

Menendez had been considering running as an independent ahead of Monday’s filing deadline to run in the Democratic primary. Menendez has until June 4, the same day as the primary, to gather the 800 signatures necessary to file for re-election an independent.

Menendez’s Senate bid allows him to continue to raise money, and his campaign funds can be used to cover legal fees. Menendez’s campaign had spent $2.3 million on legal fees in the final three months of 2023, the most recent period covered by campaign finance reports, but his fundraising plummeted over that period. His campaign ended the year with $6.2 million on hand.

Menendez also formed a separate legal defense fund in July, which raised nearly $470,000 over the last six months 2023, per a filing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, who launched a Senate run shortly after Menendez was indicted last year, said last week that the senator’s potential independent run was “really alarming.”

“There is no way that he can win this seat,” Kim said at the time. “But what he could do is jeopardize this seat and give Republicans a chance.”

New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy, Kim’s chief rival in the Senate Democratic primary, did not share those concerns, telling NBC News on Sunday after meeting with union members, “I haven’t given it that much thought. … I don’t know what he’s thinking. I am really focused on what I’m doing.”

Murphy did reiterate previous calls on Menendez to resign, though. While she said he is “obviously innocent until proven guilty,” Murphy said Menendez “does not have the moral authority right now to represent the people in New Jersey.”

New Jersey state Democratic Party Chairman LeRoy Jones Jr. told NBC News in a phone interview last week that he was doubtful Menendez would ultimately run as an independent, but he was not concerned that the senator could be a spoiler.

“The senator has a focus on defending himself in his legal trial,” Jones said. “And I think that will perhaps be first and foremost in any decision that he’s made, to be able to have an adequate defense. So, right now, I’m not really concerned about that.”

Democrats are in a strong position to hold on to the Senate seat, given the Garden State’s Democratic lean. President Joe Biden won New Jersey by 16 percentage points in 2020.

Menendez won re-election in 2018 by 11 points, even as his GOP opponent tried to leverage previous bribery and fraud charges. That case ended in mistrial in 2017. The Senate Ethics Committee in 2018 “severely admonished” Mendendez for accepting gifts from an eye doctor in Florida and failing to disclose them, and using his role to “advance” that doctor’s interests.

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