This week, the White House took a page from Michael Corleone’s handbook and settled family business with opponents or potential opponents of the administration’s hoped-for-deal with Iran. First there was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told a joint meeting of Congress Tuesday that it was a bad deal—and was subjected to a withering stream of abuse from Administration officials, who accused him of betraying America and violating “protocol.” Next was Hillary Clinton, the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee for president, whose use of a private email account while she worked as secretary of state was trumpeted by current and former Administration officials to pliant reporters all week long—even though this story is two years old. The latest domino to fall is New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who is apparently going to be indicted on charges of criminal corruption—which were leaked to reporters before the indictment was filed.
According to CNN, “the government’s case centers on Menendez’s relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who the senator has called a friend and political supporter. Melgen and his family have been generous donors to the senator and various committees the senator is associated with.”
As some have noted, Menendez may well be guilty of the charges brought against him. But the question many are asking is, why now? Well it’s hard to miss the fact that the March 24 deadline for a nuclear agreement with Iran is right around the corner—and Menendez has distinguished himself as the most prominent Democratic opponent of the administration’s Iran policy. Just a month and a half ago, he savaged the White House from the Senate floor: “The more I hear from the administration and its quotes,” Menendez said, “the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.”
As Ken Boehm of the National Legal and Policy Center, a watchdog organization that’s kept close tabs on Menendez, told Alana Goodman of the Washington Free Beacon last year, “Menendez is not well-liked by the administration,” Boehm said. “They would like to see him kicked out as the chairman of the Foreign Relations [Committee] … So is there politics like that involved? Who knows?”
As I argued earlier today, the reason the Hillary Clinton private email story is suddenly making a huge splash this week—two years after it was first reported—is because the White House has been giving the story as much oxygen as possible, essentially threatening to hurt her if she expresses any concerns about the administration’s hoped-for deal with Iran. “So far, the White House has managed to keep Democratic lawmakers in line,” I wrote, “no matter how much they seem to question the wisdom of the proposed deal. Hillary 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.”
After White House allies and assets went after their primary Iran target, Clinton, it was only a matter of time before they went after number two—the Democrat who has worked with Republican senators to co-sponsor important legislation on Iran. Most recently, there’s the Corker-Menendez bill, which “says President Obama must submit the text of any final Iran arms deal to Congress within 60 days to allow time for hearings and a vote.” But that’s not the way the White House wants it. They want an open field, with no one standing in the way. And now the message couldn’t be clearer to any Democrat who thinks of stepping out of line: We’ll come after you, too, we have the goods.
It’s a good thing for the regime in Tehran they never did anything to get on Obama’s bad side, or who knows? Ali Khamenei, Hassan Rouhani, Javad Zarif, and Qassem Suleimani also might have found themselves sleeping with the fishes—right alongside Bibi, Hillary, and now Menendez, who may soon find himself reprising the role of Senator Geary from Godfather II, in the hopes of staying out of jail:
Related: We’ve Known About Hillary’s Email for Years. Why the Hoopla This Week?
The White House Freak-Out
Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020).