Chris Matthews can nearly always be counted on to come to the defense of President Barack Obama. On Wednesday night’s “Hardball” show on MSNBC, they cut to Senator Robert Menendez’s (D-NJ) first public comments following his indictment earlier in the day for corruption charges. He stepped down from his ranking position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and defiantly announced that he was innocent, that he plans to fight the charges, and fully expects vindication.
Then, Matthews brought on correspondent Steve Kornacki, who said “his people” say that Menendez is stepping down because “he didn’t want to put anyone in the Democratic caucus in an uncomfortable position. But beyond that, I have to tell you, talking to the Menendez camp tonight, I would say they feel very confident that this is something they can beat in a court of law.” He said the Menendez camp is accusing the Justice Department of “misconduct,” and having “bungled” the case.
Kornacki then added, “They’re going to allow the suggestion, they’re certainly going to encourage it. I don’t think they’ll say it themselves, but they want the suggestion out there very much that Menendez is being targeted by the DOJ [Department of Justice], right now, the Obama administration’s DOJ because of his opposition to the administration on Iran. And you certainly have a number of Republicans out there like Mark Kirk (IL), Lindsey Graham (SC), who are suggesting that the Menendez people want that out there.”
Hearing that, Matthews pushed back, suggesting that the timeline for that interpretation didn’t make sense. He said that Menendez had been under investigation for a long time. Matthews was trying to dismiss the idea that this was yet another example of Obama’s vindictiveness. Matthews then added, as he was going to a break, “With the indictment late today of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez on federal corruption charges, wait till you hear the latest right-wing conspiracy theory. It’s that the charges were brought as payback for bucking the White House on Iran.”
Matthews then devoted a panel discussion to piling on Menendez, and virtually finding him guilty. No question, the charges are very serious, and the investigation has been going on for years. But Menendez is innocent until proven guilty of a crime. It’s the timing of the indictment that arouses such suspicion.
Matthews showed a montage of conservative talk-show hosts and politicians who suggested, as did Menendez, that this was political payback. One of the panelists on the “Hardball” segment, April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Network, was confident that President Obama would never have been involved with something like that. She said the timing was “coincidental.” However, “One thing we know for sure,” she said, “the White House is not in collusion with this, because the President is not supposed to know anything about any investigation. So this investigation is independent of anything to do with the White House.”
If that doesn’t assure you, nothing will. I guess Obama found out about the Menendez indictment along with everyone else when it was reported in the media. Just like he did with the IRS scandal, Operation Fast & Furious, the Veterans Affairs scandal, and the fact that Hillary Clinton did all of her State Department email business on a private server.
Again, as Kornacki pointed out, it was Menendez, a liberal Democrat, who is also saying this about the Obama Justice Department. Actually, Menendez has crossed the President on more than just Iran. There are also his criticisms of Obama’s policies toward Cuba, North Korea and Menendez’s strong support for Israel that may have been the final straws for Obama’s Justice Department to decide to indict the senator at this time.
Coincidence? Well, Menendez is a primary sponsor of two bills this year that are waiting in the wings to see how the negotiations in Switzerland work out that would supposedly halt Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. The bills, if they became law, would increase sanctions on Iran if a deal isn’t reached, and demand that Congress approve any deal reached by the parties to the negotiations. One bill is the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015, with Senator Kirk as the other lead sponsor.
And the other one is with Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). It would, as described by Politico, “allow Congress to approve or reject any nuclear agreement that President Barack Obama reaches with Iran.” Politico added that it “would be a stern rebuke to the president,” and cited a letter released last month in which Obama’s “Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told Corker that moving on his Iran legislation would ‘potentially prevent any deal from succeeding.’”
While apparently the parties to the negotiations have agreed today on a “framework” to keep negotiating to try to work out an actual agreement by the end of June, the timing of this sidelining of the leading Democratic Senate voice skeptical of the President’s apparent pursuit of a deal at any price appears more than coincidental. It appears very purposeful. But don’t tell that to Chris Matthews. Remember, this is the President who urged Latino voters to “punish our enemies and reward our friends.” Maybe that explains Sen. Menendez’s indictment, as well as the decision this week to not prosecute former IRS executive Lois Lerner for contempt of Congress.