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Menendez indictment prompts calls in US Congress for Egypt aid rethink

CHARGES that Senator Bob Menendez accepted bribes in exchange for wielding his influence to aid the Egyptian government prompted calls in the U.S. Congress for the Biden administration to rethink $235 million in military aid to Cairo.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Middle East subcommittee, said he hoped the committee would investigate the allegations and Egypt’s involvement.

U.S. prosecutors announced an indictment on Friday accusing Menendez of accepting gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for wielding his influence to aid the Egyptian government.

“I would hope that our committee would consider using any ability it has to put a pause on those dollars, pending an inquiry into what Egypt was doing,” Murphy told reporters.

“I have not talked to colleagues about this yet, but obviously this raises pretty serious questions about Egypt, Egypt’s conduct,” he said.

The indictment against Menendez also says he had close relationships with members of Egypt’s intelligence services and held meetings to discuss U.S. military aid.

Menendez has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. He has stepped down temporarily from his role as chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senate Democratic rules require a member charged with a felony to give up any leadership position.

President Joe Biden’s administration decided this month to allow much of U.S. foreign military aid to Egypt to go ahead, saying the country was vital to national security interests despite what critics have said about human rights abuses.

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Murphy was among lawmakers who criticized the decision.

Representative Don Beyer, a Democratic House of Representative member and co-founder of the congressional Egypt Human Rights Caucus, said Egypt “is conducting an espionage operation within the U.S. Senate” and Washington should respond.

“I think that calls for a much stronger response from the Biden administration, and the straightforward one is to withhold (the military funds),” Beyer said on CNN.

By PATRICIA ZENGERLE

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