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Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez is considering running for re-election as an independent, sources say

The New Jersey Democrat has been indicted on 18 federal counts, including accepting bribes from a foreign government. He and his wife have pleaded not guilty.
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WASHINGTON — Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is considering running for re-election in November as an independent, two sources who spoke with him directly tell NBC News.

Menendez, who along with his wife, Nadine Menendez, is facing 18 federal counts and is charged with taking bribes, has not yet publicly said if he would run again this year; his term is up in January.

The powerful New Jersey Democrat stepped down from his post as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after his initial indictment but has rejected calls to resign.

He is now making calls to allies about his record and career and is preparing to collect petitions to run in November as an independent, the sources said. If Menendez were to run as a Democrat, he would need to come up with 1,000 signatures by March 25 — so time is not on his side. But running as an independent would give him more time; in that case, he would need only 800 signatures by June 4 to qualify for the ballot.

A clearly frustrated Menendez did not deny that he's planning to run as an independent when asked by NBC News Thursday afternoon, saying multiple times: “I don’t have to declare what I am doing. When I do, everybody will know.”

Several New Jersey Democrats have already filed to run for Menendez's seat, including Rep. Andy Kim and the state's first lady, Tammy Murphy. The Democratic primary will take place on June 4.

Kim called the news "really alarming," telling NBC News that Menendez' considering running as an independent is "just another clear example of putting his own personal benefit ahead of what’s right for this country.”

"There is no way that he can win this seat," he continued. "But what he could do is jeopardize this seat and give Republicans a chance."

Kim, who was the second member of Congress to call for Menendez's resignation, argued that he's the strongest Democrat to win the seat "as someone who won a Trump district twice.”

Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One of Menendez’s most vocal Democratic critics mockingly encouraged him to run as an independent.

Bob Menendez listens during a hearing.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., at a hearing in Washington on Oct. 4. Eric Lee / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

“I dare him. Go ahead. Go ahead, dude,” said Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., who has endorsed Kim. “If that sleaze ball wants to pull 7%, go right ahead. And that’s going to be strange trying to campaign while you’re in your trial.”

Menendez and his wife have been charged with accepting bribes from a foreign government, acting as a foreign agent and conspiracy to obstruct justice, among other counts. They have denied the charges and pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein on Thursday denied Menendez's effort to dismiss the charges against him on the basis of legislative immunity that he said was afforded by the Constitution's Speech or Debate clause, which prevents prosecution of members of Congress for certain actions.

In an opinion, Stein said, "Menendez’s motion is denied to the extent it seeks dismissal of the charges on Speech or Debate Clause grounds."

The trial is scheduled to begin May 6.

Menendez's legal bills are mounting and he can only fundraise if he is a candidate on the ballot, the sources noted. It's not unheard of to use campaign funds to cover legal fees; former President Donald Trump's affiliated committees spent almost $50 million in fundraising cash on legal fees last year, NBC News previously reported.

Menendez’s son, Rep. Rob Menendez, D-N.J., has said he will also run for re-election to the House. The younger Menendez has not been implicated in the case against his father.