U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 10, 2014.
Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

Watching a GOP conspiracy theory blossom

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) looked a little silly when he argued Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) may face criminal charges because he disagrees with the White House on Iranian policy. Yesterday, however, he quickly discovered he had some company among Republicans who were equally eager to appear foolish.
 
Yesterday morning, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested he’s sympathetic to the conspiracy theory, too.
After a Monday morning speech in New Hampshire, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg Politics that the Menendez allegations did not sit right with him.
 
“All I can say is, they were leaked,” Graham said. “He wasn’t actually charged officially. They leaked the fact that he may be charged, is gonna be charged. I hate it when that happens for anybody. I like Bob. Like everybody else, he’s innocent until proven guilty. He’s been a champion on the Iranian nuclear issue. It just doesn’t smell right.”
By yesterday afternoon, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) went even further.
Sen. Mark S. Kirk became the latest Republican to suggest reports of corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez are the result of “politically motivated” leaks by the Justice Department. […]
 
“Bob Menendez has been an excellent partner for me on the Iran stuff, and I’m worried now by leaking stuff [from] Justice it’s politically motivated to silence Bob for his work on Iran, which he should be praised for,” said Kirk.
Conservative media figures from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal are on board, too.
 
At the risk of spoiling Republicans’ fun, this is impossible to take seriously. Indeed, take a step back and consider how ridiculous this looks in the broader context: the Obama administration’s Justice Department appears poised to prosecute a sitting Democratic senator, and Republicans are outraged.
 
As we discussed yesterday, there’s literally nothing to substantiate the conspiracy theory. The investigation into Menendez’s actions began long before the recent debate over U.S. policy towards Iran. For that matter, though Cruz has accused the Justice Department of “announcing a pending indictment,” in reality, there has been no such announcement.
 
What’s more, there’s no real reason for the Obama administration to even consider such a brazen abuse of federal law enforcement – Menendez disagrees with the White House on Iranian diplomacy, but the New Jersey Democrat is already giving the administration the time it needs to see the process through.
 
Even as an electoral matter, Cruz’s conspiracy theory is hard to take seriously. The president and Menendez clearly aren’t on the same page when it comes to Iran, but on the vast majority of issues, the senator and Obama agree. Why in the world would the White House try to cut off a fellow Democrat at the knees? Especially given the fact that if Menendez goes, Gov. Chris Christie (R) would appoint a temporary Republican replacement?
 
I don’t imagine GOP conspiracy theorists want my advice, but there’s a more obvious way to proceed: if a Democratic senator faces criminal charges and finds himself accused of corruption, then tie him to other Democrats and argue there’s something rotten in the party.
 
The current Republican tack seems backwards: Menendez appears likely to face an indictment, and to hear Republicans tell it, this is all the White House’s fault.
 

Bob Menendez, Conspiracy Theories, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk and Ted Cruz

Watching a GOP conspiracy theory blossom