Sen. John Fetterman told CNN he plans to try to force a vote this week to prevent indicted Sen. Bob Menendez from receiving classified briefings if that isn’t dealt with internally as the two men trade barbs over the bribery and fraud charges facing the New Jersey Democrat.
“He’s a schoolyard bully,” Menendez told CNN’s Manu Raju.
“And I call him ‘about to be a felon,’” Fetterman, of Pennsylvania, shot back in an interview with CNN that aired Sunday. “I’m picking on him? No, it’s like, I’m just asking you to resign. And you need to resign.”
The back-and-forth is the latest in an escalating war of words between the two Democratic senators as Fetterman has publicly demanded Menendez resign, endorsed a primary challenger against him, and called it “outrageous” that he continues to receive classified briefings as he faces bribery and corruption charges. Menendez has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“Yeah, I think it should be like, ‘Hey, you know what, that’s a minimum,’” Fetterman told CNN when asked whether he thinks leadership should bar Menendez from classified briefings. “I mean obviously I had hope that they would chuck him by now, but if that’s not going to happen, something is going to happen” when his trial starts in May.
Fetterman, one of the first senators to call for Menendez’s resignation, told CNN he plans to give it until the end of this week to deal with the issue internally before he tries to publicly force the matter on the Senate floor. The Pennsylvania freshman senator has introduced a resolution that would bar senators indicted on national security issues – such as Menendez – from attending classified briefings.
“The director of the CIA is now being involved in negotiations with the two nations that Menendez is accused of being a foreign agent for and he’s getting kind-of classified briefings. I don’t believe that should be allowed,” Fetterman said.
Fetterman told CNN he hasn’t received any assurances from leadership that the issue will be handled internally, but added “that would be my hope.”
Menendez is facing bribery and corruption charges for allegedly taking steps to benefit the governments of Egypt and Qatar and help several New Jersey businessmen in exchange for gold bars, cash, a luxury car and Formula One Grand Prix race tickets.
Menendez has forcefully denied the charges against him and has said he will prove his innocence while claiming that he is being persecuted by prosecutors.
“He continues to double down on the trying to defend the indefensible. And he seems to not be acknowledging the kind of serious situation that he finds himself in,” Fetterman said of Menendez.
Menendez attended a classified briefing earlier this month in a secure room in the Capitol complex with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He has attended at least two briefings since his indictment and has defended his right to be there.
“I’m a United States senator, I have my security credentials, and an accusation is just that. It’s not proof of anything,” Menendez told CNN in November.
For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com