The Justice Department announced on Friday that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) had been indicted on federal charges in connection with astonishing allegations of bribery and corruption. The filing of charges against a senior Democratic senator at a time when the attorney general, Merrick Garland, is an appointee of a president of the same party “appeared to undercut claims” from Republicans that former President Donald Trump “is the victim of pervasive political bias that targets leaders on the right while shielding transgressors on the left,” The New York Times reported that day.
But anyone who thought the charges against Menendez would lead pundits on the right to reconsider their assertions of a “two tiered” system of justice was making a category error. The right’s claim that President Joe Biden has “politicized” the Justice Department is not a reasoned, falsifiable claim based on evidence — it is a conspiracy theory in which all new information which seems to refute it is twisted by propagandists and marshaled in its support. That Biden is generally close-mouthed about DOJ activities and Garland spent his career outside of politics has never done anything to slow it down.
Trumpist pundits began laying out explanations for how Menendez’s indictment actually buttresses their politicization canard on Friday, as New Jersey’s Democratic leaders lined up to call for his resignation. Based on no evidence whatsoever, right-wingers suggested that Biden and Garland ordered Menendez’s prosecution for partisan reasons, either to create the “appearance of impartiality” so they could continue persecuting Trump or in retaliation for Menendez’s hawkish foreign policy views.
Minutes after news of Menendez’s indictment broke, right-wing political operative Phil Kerpen commented on X, “Menendez is always corrupt but only seems to get indicted when a Democratic administration is capitulating to Iran.”
“Yes, interesting pattern to this,” chimed in Fox contributor Mollie Hemingway.
“My contempt for DOJ is so total, and my trust in it so non-existent, that even though I have zero doubt Menendez is corrupt, my immediate assumption is that this indictment is bogus and that he must’ve done something to block the regime’s policy goals to earn it,” added Sean Davis, CEO of The Federalist.
Menendez was previously charged with corruption during the Obama administration, but the Justice Department dropped charges after his trial ended in a hung jury. Notably, this theory assumes that Menendez was similarly corrupt during the Trump administration but was let off the hook because his foreign policy views were aligned with the right at the time.
Such claims spread rapidly among other users who pay Elon Musk $8 a month to amplify their statements on his platform and, over the course of the day Friday, were adopted by influential right-wing streamers.
TPUSA’s Charlie Kirk told his radio listeners and Real America’s Voice viewers that “there are no indictments without the right hand knowing what the left hand is doing” and argued that the Biden administration is “doing this to create the appearance of impartiality so that they can continue their jihad against Donald Trump.” He added that the charges are meant as “a warning” to “other U.S. senators.”
Pizzagater Jack Posobiec, meanwhile, offered a somewhat different but no less conspiratorial take. “There's a reason they're targeting Bob Menendez right now,” he told his audience. “It's because Bob Menendez has been a thorn in the side of the Democrats when it comes to their Iran policy."
By Friday evening, the Menendez conspiracy theory had moved to the heights of the right-wing media.
Fox News star Jesse Watters claimed that Menedez had been subjected to a “partisan prosecution” because he had been “a thorn in Biden’s side.”
“Now, it makes sense when you realize Menendez doesn't want to open Cuba — Biden does. Menendez hates the Iran deal; Biden wants back in. Menendez loves Israel; Biden not so much. Menendez was dead set against Venezuelan amnesty, and Biden just gave half a million Venezuelan Social Security numbers,” Watters explained.
“So Menendez is cooked, and President Biden has a wider lane in foreign affairs now,” he added. “But we're getting to know Joe Biden, aren't we? He sees an obstacle, and he doesn't move around it; he removes it. Trump, indicted. Menendez, indicted.“
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Trump spent the weekend accusing U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, of a “treasonous act” that would have led to his execution “in times gone by”; urging the FBI to raid the homes of other Democratic senators who are “Election Stealing THUGS”; and explicitly saying that Comcast should be investigated over the reporting of its subsidiaries, NBC News and MSNBC.
“I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events,” he added. “Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE?”
The Trumpist media apparatus isn’t opposed to politicized prosecutions — its commentators are wildly supportive of them, and they are diligently creating pretexts for Republicans to carry them out if and when they return to the White House. That’s the lens through which journalists should filter all right-wing claims that Biden is weaponizing government.