WASHINGTON – Just as one set of allegations against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez gains added attention, another continues to fall apart.
A police spokesman in the Dominican Republic said Monday that three women were paid to falsely claim they had sex for money with Menendez, the Associated Press reported. Two women got $425 to make the claims on video and one got $300, according to the report.
"The evidence released today by Dominican law enforcement authorities proves what we have said all along: that the smear campaign against Senator Menendez is based on lies, lies we now know were paid for by interests whose identities have not yet been fully disclosed. These lies were peddled to reporters by Republican operatives, as ABC has reported, and also sent to the FBI by parties yet unknown. Making such intentionally false reports to a federal law enforcement agency is a criminal offense, and we hope the proper U.S. authorities will investigate this matter, as their Dominican counterparts are already doing," Menendez spokeswoman Tricia Enright said in an e-mail.
The news puts yet another tear in the long-fraying allegations that Menendez, a Democrat, traveled to the Dominican for trysts with prostitutes. The accusation first surfaced last year, and was promoted by the conservative Web site the Daily Caller. It was based almost entirely on one shadowy e-mailer, who no one has ever met, and video with two prostitutes making accusations.
The police statement comes two weeks after the Washington Post reported that one of the women had said she was paid to make up a story about Menendez paying for sex.
But as the salacious allegations lose traction, federal officials are looking into other actions involving Menendez and his relationship with friend and donor Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor.
A Florida grand jury is examining their ties, and Menendez’s advocacy on Melgen’s behalf, the Washington Post reported last week. Separately, justice department prosecutors in Washington are reviewing whether Menendez improperly interceded to help Melgen in a healthcare fraud investigation and tried to hide his trips on Melgen’s plane, the Lost Angeles Time reported. Those questions are being examined by Justice’s Public Integrity Section.
"We welcome any review because Sen. Menendez’s actions have always been appropriate, and we believe the facts will confirm that," the senator's office wrote in a statement late last week.
Melgen is a major campaign donor to Menendez and other Democrats and provided the senator three trips to the Dominican on his private plane. Menendez did not repay the $58,500 cost for two of the trips for more than two years. He has also advocated on Melgen’s behalf in the doctor’s dispute with federal officials over Medicare billing and pressed for the U.S. government to help Melgen in a business dispute involving port screening in the Dominican.
Questions about those actions remain even as the prostitution story loses credibility.
Over the weekend, the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest newspaper, published an editorial calling for Menendez to give up his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until the investigations are complete.