TRENTON — New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, who is on trial on federal bribery charges in New York, has filed to run as an independent candidate for reelection.

Menendez, 70, had said this year that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to pursue a fourth term, and on Monday filed paperwork with the state to launch an independent bid on the ballot. He had previously said an independent run for office was possible.

Asked on his way into court Monday if he's changing political parties, Menendez said in Spanish, “no, independent doesn't mean I'm changing."

Menendez listed his party in documents filed with the state as “Menendez for Senate.”

(AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)
(AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

The political stakes are high, given the Democrats’ narrow control in the Senate, where New Jersey is normally safely in Democratic hands. It’s unclear how much support Menendez could siphon from U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, who is in a favorable position to win the Democratic primary, which ends Tuesday. The GOP hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in the state since 1972.

Kim, a three-term congressman from the 3rd District, said Menendez was running for himself, not the public.

“Americans are fed up with politicians putting their own personal benefit ahead of what's right for the country,” Kim said.

Menendez, his wife, Nadine, and three business associates were charged last year by federal prosecutors in New York with running a scheme in which Menendez promised to use his office to help the businessmen in return for gold bars, cash, a mortgage payment on his wife's house and a luxury car.

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(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., arrives at federal court, Tuesday 5/28/24. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The Menedezes and two of the business associates have pleaded not guilty. A third pleaded guilty and agreed to testify.

In court, prosecutors have argued that Menendez sought to sell his office to enrich himself, helping business associate Wael Hana get a lucrative monopoly on certifying meat exports to Egypt as meeting Islamic guidelines, and assisting Fred Daibes with investments linked to a member of the Qatari royal family.

Menendez has denied there was any corrupt scheme. His attorneys said his conduct constituted carrying out diplomacy and working on behalf of constituents. The gold bars belonged to his wife, and the cash laying around his house was a longtime habit stemming from his parents' escape from Communist Cuba, according to his attorney.

Daibes and Hana are on trial alongside Menendez. Nadine Menendez is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, the senator has said, and is expected to go on trial later this summer.

Jose Uribe leaves federal court in New York 9/27/23. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Jose Uribe leaves federal court in New York 9/27/23. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Menendez has held elected office for most of his life, getting on the Union City, New Jersey, school board just two years out of high school. Since then, he has been elected to office in the Legislature, as a U.S. representative and in 2006 as a U.S. senator.

He survived politically after another federal trial — that time in New Jersey on charges that he used his office to help a friend defraud Medicare — in 2017. It ended in a deadlocked jury, and prosecutors declined to hold another trial. In 2018, with the backing of the state's Democratic establishment, Menendez won reelection.

But his political fortunes turned after the September 2023 indictment when allies across the state, including Gov. Phil Murphy, and in the Senate called for his resignation.

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Nadine Menendez, wife of Sen. Menendez leaves federal court 10/18/23. (AP/Bebeto Matthews, File)
Nadine Menendez, wife of Sen. Menendez leaves federal court 10/18/23. (AP/Bebeto Matthews, File)

Menendez vowed to beat the charges against him, and like last time, promised to stick around. But Menendez didn’t appear on ballots for Tuesday’s primary. By filing as an independent, he’s aiming for November instead.

Two Republican candidates, Curtis Bashaw and Christine Serrano Glassner, have garnered the most attention. Bashaw, a southern New Jersey hotel developer, has won significant county party support, while Serrano Glassner has former President Donald Trump's endorsement.

Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.

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