The Menendez Fiasco
Biden's Justice Department is going after Sen. Bob Menendez for allegedly taking bribes in exchange for political influence. Trump is downplaying the charges, and his team is defending the Democrat.
President Joe Biden might be asleep at the wheel, but the people around him are not. In the game of optics, the Justice Department’s indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, could undermine Republican claims of a “two-tiered system” in which Democrats and their allies are above the law.
According to federal prosecutors, Menendez accepted bribes in the form of cash, gold bars, expensive cars, and home mortgage payments in exchange for using his office for the benefit of business associates and the Egyptian government. An indictment unsealed Friday states that “$480,000 in cash—much of it stuffed into envelopes and hidden in clothing, closets, and a safe—was discovered in the home” of the senator during the execution of a search warrant.
So here is the picture Democrats appear to be painting: they are so committed to equal justice that they are even willing to go after their own. It sounds ridiculous to Republicans, and, indeed, it’s not really true. However, the fact is that Democrats will be able to point to this every time Republicans cry “two-tiered system.” Politico already spelled it out: “The latest indictment of the prominent Democrat gives DOJ a chance to appear politically evenhanded as it faces withering criticism from former President Donald Trump and his allies over the two federal criminal indictments that Trump is under.” A headline at The New York Times wove a similar narrative: “Menendez Indictment Appears to Undercut Claims of ‘Two-Tiered System’ of Justice.” CNN highlighted that prominent Democrats, including New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, swiftly denounced Menendez, with some calling for his resignation.
That contrast will appear even more stark as the GOP doubles down on the position that Trump can do no wrong as he faces 91 charges across four criminal cases. And depending on how Democrats play this, it could even be worse than that for Republicans because the Trump administration had an opportunity to pursue a corruption case against Menendez in 2018 but didn’t. Worse, Trump apparently expressed approval that Menendez dodged charges at the time. That might be why Trump’s camp immediately sided with Menendez, suggesting that he’s the victim of a Biden conspiracy, as Trump attorney Alina Habba did on Newsmax.
“It’s fake. . . . It’s fake news,” Habba said. “It’s just like how they brought a felony charge for guns only against Hunter Biden. Why? Because it’s the only way they don’t have to dive into Joe Biden. This is more of the same. They’re fooling the American public.” But that doesn’t really make sense because going after Menendez is only drawing more attention to the Hunter Biden case.
Trump himself downplayed Menendez’s alleged crimes in a Truth Social post. “Menendez is a ‘piker’ compared to some of those Election Stealing THUGS,” Trump wrote. Menendez chaired the Foreign Relations Committee—one of the most powerful committees in the Senate—until he stepped down following the indictment.
In fact, the only thing we know with absolute certainty at this point is that Team Trump does not want people to think about Menendez too much, and a history lesson offers clues as to why that might be.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Contra to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.