Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton had used a personal email address to conduct official State Department business. Today CNN reported that the Justice Department is planning to indict New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez on criminal charges of corruption. Except for the fact that Clinton and Menendez are both prominent Democrats, these two events would appear to be unrelated. But are they?

After word of Menendez’s impending indictment came down, a number of hawkish conservative commentators began floating theories suggesting that the negative stories about him and Clinton were deliberately planted by the Obama administration. According to these theories, the White House wants to punish Democrats for expressing hard-line stances against Iran—as both Clinton and Menendez have—and generate noise to distract American from the administration’s ongoing talks with the country over containing its nuclear capabilities.

This outré theory first bubbled up in a Friday morning column by Tablet contributor Lee Smith. The White House’s baffled response to Clinton’s private email address, Smith wrote, “had all the hallmarks of a well-organized political hit.” After noting that Gawker first reported Clinton’s use of a private address nearly two years ago, Smith continued:

So, why did it take the Obama Administration two years to admit to what was already known and to then suggest that Clinton's behavior was reckless and may have even been criminal? And why did it take so long for a major news organization like the New York Times to come up with the big “scoop” it published earlier this week? ...

This week’s tarring of Hillary Clinton is part of the White House’s political campaign to shut off debate about its hoped-for deal. It’s not hard to see why they’re anxious. With Netanyahu’s speech forcing lawmakers and editorial writers to face up to the proposed agreement’s manifest problems, the administration fears the prospect of Democrats jumping ship and signing on to Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation that also would give Congress oversight on the deal. So far, the White House has managed to keep Democratic lawmakers in line, 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.

The initial reaction to Smith’s column was...mixed. “Hmmmmmmmmmmm,” the managing director of The Israel Project, Omri Ceren, tweeted. David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, called Smith’s column “fascinatingly paranoid.”

The tepid response likely arose from the fact that Smith’s column didn’t make a lot of sense. It is true that, in 2008, Clinton said she was prepared to “totally obliterate” Iran if it ever attacked Israel. Five weeks ago, however, she endorsed the Obama administration’s opposition to a Senate bill that would place various sanctions on Iran (contingent on whether the administration fails to reach a nuclear deal with the country by June 30). The suggestion that Obama would punish Clinton for publicly agreeing with him is bizarre.

But that was before the news about Senator Bob Menendez came out. It just so happens that Menendez co-authored, with Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, the same Iran sanctions bill that the Obama administration opposes. After CNN’s report about the coming charges against him, Colin Campbell of Business Insider points out, several other conservative figures started hinting that something sinister was afoot:

The strongest (and most telling) reaction belonged to Michael Goldfarb, a former John McCain staffer, a board member of the Emergency Committee for Israel, and the founder of the Washington Free Beacon:

Goldfarb’s suspicions aren’t necessarily new. Last year, he noted that the F.B.I.’s decision to reopen its investigation into Menendez coincided with Menendez’s legislative activity concerning Iran:

Even compared to Lee Smith’s Clinton conspiracy theory, Goldfarb’s theory about Obama punishing Menendez doesn’t make much sense either. The F.B.I. first opened an investigation into the Senator’s alleged corruption in March 2013 (some months after the Daily Caller erroneously reported that Menendez had been credibly accused of soliciting prostitutes in the Dominican Republic). But it wasn’t until December 2013 that Menendez and Senator Mark Kirk introduced the first draft of their bill calling for sanctions on Iran. For Goldfarb’s theory to work, the Obama administration would have had to possess the foreknowledge, in March 2013, that Menendez would defy the White House by seeking official sanctions against Iran later that year. (And even then: Why would Obama go after a member of his own party when he could go after Kirk—a Republican?)

Let’s not forget, of course, that it was Goldfarb and his ideological allies who loudly demanded that Menendez be brought to justice in the first place:

The same principle applies to Hillary Clinton: The people arguing that Obama is running interference with stories about her private email address are precisely the same people who would otherwise relish in anything that embarrasses the former Secretary of State. Indeed, the clearest proof against the right’s broader theory about Obama punishing his own party is the fact that it’s compelled Goldfarb, an entertainingly militant anti-Clinton political operative, to sympathize with Clinton herself:

Give Goldfarb credit where it’s due: At least he admits it’s a conspiracy theory.

Email the author: trotter@gawker.com · Photo credit: Getty Images