Top USDA Official Says Menendez Told Him to ‘Stop Interfering’ 

A top official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture testified late last week that Democratic Senator Bob Menendez once told him to “stop interfering with my constituents.”

That testimony was given on Friday by Ted McKinney, who was working for the USDA in May of 2019 when the person who was serving as his chief-of-staff at the time that Menendez planned to call him on his personal cellphone within the hour.

McKinney said he was attempting to get officials in Egypt to reverse a decision they made to grant a new business a monopoly certifying halal meat that was exported to them. 

The decision, he said, was “very unusual” and could ultimately hurt beef interests in America. 

Then, McKinney said he’d “never forget the words” that Menendez told him when he spoke briefly with him on the phone, to “stop interfering.”

Prosecutors in the corruption trial against Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey, are citing this as a key account in their case against him. Menendez has been accused of receiving bribes from the Egyptian government that ultimately benefited businesspeople in New Jersey.

The halal certification monopoly that was granted to the New Jersey-based IS EG Halal helped to provide the funds that were used to send bribes to the senator. That company was led by Wael “Will” Hana.

In the spring of 2019, officials from Egypt decertified all halal meat certification companies in their country — with the exception of IS EG Halal. Many agricultural officials in America were taken back by that decision, McKinney said.

While he was a top USDA official at the time that this occurred, he now heads up the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

On the stand, McKinney testified that when this occurred, America was in the lead for exports of beef liver to Egypt, and were a huge stream of profits for many American beef companies.

By granting a monopoly for halal certification to just one company, prices could increase for customers in Egypt, while the purchase of American meat could also not be as attractive as it once was.

McKinney said he reached out to the Egyptian ambassador who was in Washington, D.C., before he talked to Menendez, as well as his counterpart in the government of Egypt who oversaw agricultural issues. He asked them to reconsider this new monopoly, but he didn’t receive a response from either person.

Not long after that, Menendez called him.

McKinney said Menendez was “curt” and “serious” on the call, and said he believed the senator was trying to have him “stand down” and not push back against Egypt’s decision.

The USDA official then tried to explain to Menendez the concerns he had about the monopoly, but the senator cut him off.

As McKinney recalled:

“I was interrupted very early in my explanation. I didn’t get very far.”

He added that when this was all happening, he believed “something nefarious was going on,” a remark that the judge in the case told jurors to “disregard.”

Even so, it is damning testimony that certainly makes it look like Menendez was doing something dirty.