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The rapid fall of the GOP’s ‘two-tiered system’ talking point

GOP claims about a “two-tiered” justice system have long been lazy and needlessly partisan, but given recent events, the claims are now just ridiculous.


House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met with Elon Musk in his office a couple of weeks ago, and according to a message the California Republican published to social media, the GOP leader told Musk “he would have better luck” with the Justice Department “if he changed his last name to Biden.”

This was, of course, intended to be amusing. In the political picture Republicans are desperate for the public to believe, the Justice Department has been corrupted to such a degree that the president’s relatives and allies can get away with crimes scot-free.

It was literally the day after the McCarthy/Musk meeting, of course, when federal prosecutors charged Hunter Biden, the president’s son, doing obvious harm to the misguided GOP talking point.

Last week, after the Justice Department indicted a sitting Democratic senator — the year ahead of his 2024 re-election campaign — NBC News’ Kristen Welker asked Rep. Don Bacon whether the charges undercut the partisan claims about two systems of justice. “I think it does to a degree,” the Nebraska Republican replied.

Given the circumstances, the “to a degree” caveat was unnecessary. A New York Times report summarized the larger context nicely:

On Wednesday, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee repeatedly accused Attorney General Merrick B. Garland of singling out former President Donald J. Trump for selective prosecution, slamming him for what they call a “two-tiered system” of justice. Forty-eight hours later, the Justice Department indicted one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate — Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee — on bribery charges, making public a trove of evidence, including cash and gold bars stashed at his house.

The whole idea of a “two-tiered” justice system has long been a lazy argument, concocted to help respond to the Trump indictments, in large part because attacking federal prosecutors with baseless allegations has been easier than trying to deal with the substance of the allegations pending against the former president.

But the laziness has been exposed in dramatic fashion of late. It was the Trump-era Justice Department that opened an investigation into Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, for example, and it was the Biden-era Justice Department that ultimately decided not to file charges against the Florida congressman. A politicized DOJ, hellbent on helping Democrats and targeting the party’s enemies, likely would’ve done the opposite.

This month’s indictments against Hunter Biden and Menendez did additional harm to the talking point that never should’ve been uttered.

The Times’ report quoted Anthony Coley, a former spokesperson for the department, saying, “This case [against the Democratic senator] really should silence any critic who wrongly suggests that D.O.J. is politicized under Garland. This D.O.J. follows the facts — and isn’t influenced by partisan politics, political affiliation or wealth — not anything but facts and law.”

We know, of course, that it won’t silence those critics — assorted voices on the right are already incorporating the charges into their conspiracy theories about the Justice Department — but given the circumstances, it’s become effectively impossible to take those complaints seriously.