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Opinion: Democrats’ response to the Menendez indictment tells all you need to know about today’s GOP


Opinion by Dean Obeidallah

(CNN) — Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads at The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

Democratic US Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey faces corruption-related charges for the second time in a decade. Friday’s three-count federal indictment accuses Menendez, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” in exchange for the senator’s influence. The alleged bribes included gold bars, cash and a luxury car.

Menendez has denied any wrongdoing while criticizing prosecutors for, in his words, “making false claims against me.” (A mistrial was declared in an earlier corruption case, and prosecutors dropped the charges.)

The reaction from some of Menendez’s fellow Democrats to the new indictment might surprise those accustomed to how some Republicans have responded to criminal charges against former President Donald Trump.

Some GOP officeholders accused the Justice Department of the “weaponization” of the government, engaged in dangerous and violent rhetoric and even used the apparatus of government in blind defense of Trump.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, agreed the charges against Menendez were “very serious” but told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” that the decision to step down was up to the senator and his constituents.

However, New Jersey’s leading Democratic officials have called on the senior senator from their state to resign, given the detailed and damning allegations in the indictment. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy set the tone within hours of the charges being announced with a statement that “the alleged facts are so serious that they compromise the ability of Senator Menendez to effectively represent the people of our state.”

The second-term Democratic governor added, “Therefore, I am calling for his immediate resignation.” (Murphy would appoint Menendez’s replacement should he resign.)

Numerous New Jersey Democratic members of Congress echoed that sentiment, including US Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Josh Gottheimer, Bill Pascrell and Donald Norcross. New Jersey General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin also joined the voices calling for Menendez to resign, noting in a statement, “The charges laid out against Senator Menendez today go against everything we should believe as public servants.”

And it wasn’t just New Jersey Democrats. Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania on Saturday became the first fellow senator to publicly call for Menendez to step down. Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Fetterman explained: “He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, but he cannot continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations.”

And Democratic Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey went one step further once Menendez had rejected calls to resign. On Saturday, the third-term member of Congress announced that he would run against the senator in the 2024 Democratic primary. It’s “(n)ot something I expected to do, but NJ deserves better. We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our integrity,” Kim wrote on X.

While Menendez is not the leader of the Democratic Party on a national level, he is still one of the Democrats’ most senior and powerful senators, given his role as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — which he has stepped down from as the legal case plays out. Yet not one Democratic official has responded the way Trump’s GOP allies did to the former president’s criminal cases. (Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied all wrongdoing.)

Even before Trump was charged with 91 felonies in four jurisdictions, some House Republicans expressed outrage when the FBI executed a court-approved search of his Mar-a-Lago estate in August 2022 in pursuit of classified documents. At the time, people such as current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called the search part of the Justice Department’s “intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”

And after Trump was charged in early April with 34 felonies in New York over falsifying business records related to a hush-money payment to an adult film star, GOP House Committee Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan — a Trump stalwart — held a taxpayer-funded field hearing in New York in an effort to discredit Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who had brought the charges.

Worse, after Trump was charged with 37 felonies over mishandling of classified documents, including with violations of the Espionage Act, some Trump allies went beyond calling the matter a “grave injustice” and a “brazen weaponization of power” like McCarthy did.

Other Trump GOP supporters used violent rhetoric. In response to the Trump indictment in the classified documents case, US Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona wrote, “We have now reached a war phase,” adding, “Eye for an eye.” (Biggs’ office later said his comment was a call for Republicans to “step up and use their procedural tools” to counter “the Left’s weaponization of our federal law enforcement apparatus.”)

Another one of Trump’s best-known allies, Kari Lake, who lost her race for Arizona’s governor in 2022, told a crowd at a GOP event in Georgia shortly after the charges were made known: “If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me and 75 million Americans just like me.” Lake continued, “And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA,” she said to applause, adding, “That’s not a threat, that’s a public service announcement.”

And after Trump was indicted last month in Georgia on 13 charges over efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state, some Georgia Republican legislators called for defunding the district attorney who spearheaded that investigation. One GOP state senator went as far as suggesting a civil war was possible if the prosecution continues, saying he did not want to have to “draw (his) rifle.”

When it comes to their beloved Trump, some Republicans clearly reject the idea that “no one is above the law.” Thankfully, though, some Democrats are showing us with their actions that this concept is not an empty cliché but a principle they champion.

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