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Federal prosecutors indict Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez

The fact that the Biden-era Justice Department is prosecuting a Democratic senator ahead of his re-election race doesn't help GOP conspiracy theorists.


The last time federal prosecutors charged Sen. Bob Menendez, the case went to trial but they couldn’t secure a conviction. The case ended in a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict, and those charges were ultimately dropped.

Six years later, it appears the New Jersey Democrat is going to face the process again. As NBC News reported, Menendez has been indicted on federal bribery charges.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has been indicted on federal bribery charges, the Justice Department announced Friday. The indictment alleges that Menendez and his wife, Nadine, received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes and used the senator’s influence to enrich several businessmen from New Jersey, as well as the Egyptian government.

By all appearances, the allegations appear very serious. As NBC News’ report added, the court filing alleges that Menendez received, among other things, cash, gold bars, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low- or no-show job, and a luxury vehicle.

In fact, to drive home the point of the seriousness of the case, according to the indictment, shortly after the senator returned from a trip to Egypt, he did a web search for “how much is one kilo of gold worth.”

This is, in other words, no small matter. The conversation about whether Menendez should resign is likely to get quite loud, quite quickly. (It appears, under Senate rules, that the New Jersey Democrat will have no choice but to give up his gavel as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.)

Time will tell, of course, what becomes of the case, which also comes with significant political implications: Menendez is up for re-election next year, and his indictment is likely to have a significant impact on his prospects.

It’s also worth keeping a close eye on how Democratic officials respond to the developments — and whether we’ll soon hear chatter about other possible candidates for the Garden State ballot in 2024.

But as the dust settles on today’s dramatic news — it’s not every day when a sitting U.S. senator faces a federal criminal indictment — I find myself thinking about, of all things, Republican conspiracy theories.

Remember, as far as the GOP is concerned, the Justice Department under President Joe Biden is a corrupt and politicized institution, which has been turned into a partisan weapon used to advance Democrats’ electoral interests.

In case this isn’t painfully obvious, today’s news points in the opposite direction: It doesn’t do Democrats any favors to have federal prosecutors charge an incumbent Democratic senator the year before his re-election campaign. If the Justice Department were a corrupt and politicized weapon, with a partisan White House pulling its strings, we’d see prosecutors doing the exact opposite of what they’re doing today.

With this in mind, it should be entertaining to see Republicans come up with revised conspiracy theories, suggesting that the Biden-era Justice Department — which has already indicted the sitting president’s adult son — is still a political weapon, even as it prosecutes one of the president’s allies.

Indeed, it’s easy to forget that when Menendez was indicted the first time, during Barack Obama’s presidency, a striking number of Republicans — including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — publicly speculated about whether the New Jersey Democrat was being targeted because he was a skeptic of Obama’s policy toward Iran.

“It just doesn’t smell right,” Graham said at the time.

How will GOP conspiracy theorists incorporate Menendez’s latest charges into their preconceived assumptions? I can hardly wait.