Sen. Cory Booker gave an impassioned speech defending Sen. Bob Menendez's character during a closed-door lunch with fellow senators

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Sen. Cory Booker gave an impassioned speech defending Sen. Bob Menendez's character during a closed-door lunch with fellow senators
Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez of New Jersey at a joint session of Congress in February 2017.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Cory Booker gave an impassioned defense of Bob Menendez's character during a senators' lunch.
  • "You gotta hate the sin, but love the sinner," said Booker, per two sources familiar with the discussion.
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Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey gave an impassioned defense of Sen. Bob Menendez's character during a closed-door lunch with other Democratic senators on Wednesday, according to four sources familiar with the meeting.

"You gotta hate the sin, but love the sinner," Booker told his colleagues of his newly-indicted home state colleague, according to two of those sources.

While Booker remained firm in his position that Menendez should resign, he implored his colleagues to show compassion for the senator during what's certain to be a dark period in his life, according to three sources.

Those remarks were met with an awkward silence, according to two of the sources. The vast majority of the Democratic caucus has publicly called for the embattled senator to resign, arguing that despite being innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, he has broken the public trust.

Menendez was in New York City on Wednesday, where he pleaded not guilty during the first hearing in his case. He stands accused of accepting bribes in exchange for enriching a trio of New Jersey businessmen and corruptly assisting the government of Egypt.

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Booker's office declined to comment for this story.

In his Tuesday statement calling on Menendez to resign, Booker offered high praise for his colleague.

"I've had more professional experiences with him than most others, and I've witnessed his extraordinary work and boundless work ethic," Booker said in the statement. "I've consistently found Senator Menendez to be intellectually gifted, tough, passionate, and deeply empathic. We have developed a working relationship and a friendship that I value and believe has furthered our effectiveness in serving New Jersey."

And Booker has long been close to Menendez, once proclaiming himself the "the Robin to his Batman." He notably stood by Menendez during his previous corruption scandal, testifying as a character witness for the senator at a trial in 2017.

Yet when the one-time 2020 presidential candidate became the 10th senator to call for Menendez to step aside on Tuesday, it opened the floodgates for 20 more Democratic senators to do the same.

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who's also known Menendez for decades, has so far declined to call for Menendez to resign. He told reporters following the lunch on Wednesday that he would wait until the New Jersey Democrat had the opportunity to address senators the following day.

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