Both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez suddenly find themselves in widely covered political scandals, which is notably odd, given that both are Democrats and therefore usually exempt from such unpleasant press scrutiny. Ordinarily we would revel in shameless schadenfreude, but there’s something unsettling about the timing.
Both scandals date back several years, after all, yet are coming to light just as the Obama administration readies to impose a controversial treaty with Iran without Senate ratification and simultaneously stave off Congressional attempts to impose sanctions on Iran that might scuttle the deal. Perhaps it’s mere coincidence, but Menendez has been the Democratic party’s most outspoken critic of Obama’s foreign policy in general and the Iran deal in particular, Clinton would be even more troublesome if she chose this very ripe opportunity to put some much needed distance between herself and the Obama foreign policy that she guided for four years, and the White House is clearly involved in their travails. The notoriously politicized Obama Justice Department is bringing corruption charges against Menendez after a four-year investigation, numerous unnamed administration officials are being quoted in most unhelpful ways about Clinton’s use of private e-mail accounts to conduct her official business as Secretary of State, and if nothing else the stories have deflected attention from the Iran deal.
Which is not to say that either of the current scandals are either fabricated or unimportant. Menendez is accused of using his office to further the business interests of a friend and donor, which is a serious matter, and he is from New Jersey, so the charge is quite believable, and the Justice Department claims that its indictment is coming down now because they are approaching the statute of limitations on some of the charges, which is plausible even if highly convenient. Clinton’s use of a personal rather than government e-mail account posed security risks, might have been intended to keep documents of public interest from being disclosed, and seems in violation of a plain reading of federal law, and we can readily imagine many reasons having nothing to do with Iran why the Obama might administration might want to distance itself from its former Secretary of State, and even former President Bill Clinton is being rather careful about his comments. We have little regard for Menendez and much less for Clinton, and won’t mind seeing either being treated according to the facts and the law.
Still, we aren’t the only ones who find the timing unsettling. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has been so bold as to note that the Melendez indictment seems “awfully coincidental” with the Iran debate, and that “It raises the suggestion to other Democrats that if you dare depart from the Obama White House, that criminal prosecutions will be used potentially as a weapon against you as well.” The Tablet Magazine has also noticed that the Clinton story broke in a newspaper close to the Obama administration nearly two years after she left her State Department Post and more than eight years after she set up her private e-mail account, and that Menendez is a co-sponsor of the sanctions deal that enjoys almost unanimous Republican support and could possibly attract enough nervous Democrats to override a promised veto, and that Clinton, “gearing up for a 2016 run in which she is likely to put some distance between herself and Obama’s dubious Middle East policies, is the one major national Democratic figure who can give Democrats in Congress cover.” Rubio and Menendez are both Cuban-Americans and like-minded on foreign policy, and The Tablet is a Jewish publication intended for a Jewish readership, which will suffice for the racially tolerant left to dismiss their opinions as paranoia, but in our experience Cuban-Americans know a thing or two about governments that use criminal prosecutions to stifle dissent and Jewish-Americans have ample reason to be paranoid about the world in general and the Obama administration and its dealings with Iran in particular. There are other reasons, as well, to suspect that they might be on to something.
The president is claiming that Clinton’s private e-mails are another one of those shocking developments that he found out about by reading the newspapers, but so far those same newspapers have failed to elicit an answer about how he went through four years of presumably frequent communication with his Secretary of State without noticing her conspicuously non-governmental e-mail address, and already questions are being raised about other high-ranking administrations who also used private accounts but have not been made the target of an anonymous smear campaign in the press. The charges against Menendez do sound very much like another day in New Jersey politics, but that only makes it all the more curious that a Justice Department that has previously demonstrated little interest in cracking on such shenanigans in Democratic jurisdictions is suddenly going to court over such quotidian sorts of corruption. Throw in the past many years of Obama administration ruthlessness, and there’s no shaking a suspicion that the bigger scandal is a bare-knuckle effort to intimidate into silence anyone who speak ill of that awful Iran deal.
Not being a major national Democratic figure who can give Democrats in Congress cover, we’ll go ahead and say that deal looks to be a Neville Chamberlain-esque capitulation that will allow Iran to continue development of its nuclear weapons program and further strengthen a regional power that has already stretched into Iraq and Yemen and Lebanon, setting off a nuclear arms race in a region noted over the past many centuries for its insane hatreds, and pass on a rare opportunity to instead bring one of the most deranged regimes on the planet to its knees through economic sanctions. Criminal prosecutions and smear campaigns used to intimidate political opponents are never acceptable practices in a representative democracy, but when used to achieve such misguided policies they are especially abhorrent.
— Bud Norman