Senator attacks 'false smears' as prostitute withdraws claim
Senator Robert Menendez: an escort who originally said he paid her for sex now says she was paid to make the allegations.
Mr Menendez, who has faced intensive scrutiny in recent weeks over his relationship with a donor, Florida eye doctor and businessman Salomon Melgen, asked reporters yesterday to investigate the source and purpose of the false claims after a prostitute in the Dominican Republican appeared to retract her earlier story.
The escort, who had appeared in a video before the senate elections last November alleging Mr Menendez had paid her for sex, now claims she was paid to make up the allegations and had never met or seen the US politician.
She said in a sworn court statement in the Dominican Republic, as reported by the Washington Post, she and another prostitute were approached by a local lawyer and asked to frame Mr Menendez and Mr Melgen. “I am the person in the video, that is me, and those are my words, but this statement is not true. I never agreed to be recorded,” she said.
The local lawyer identified by the escort has in turn blamed another lawyer for giving him a script and paying him to find women willing to make false claims against the senator.
One of the highest-ranking Democrats in the Senate and chairman of the influential Senate foreign relations committee, Mr Menendez maintained the claims were “false smears” lifted from right-wing blogs.
“I don’t know more than what I have read but I do know from the very beginning I have said that nameless, faceless, anonymous sources . . . from the right-wing blogs took this story . . . before an election cycle, attempted to do it then and ultimately drove it into the mainstream press,” he said after the Post reported one of the escorts had withdrawn her claims.
Daily Caller, the conservative news website that broadcast the videos just before last November’s election, stuck by its story, saying the woman in the Post’s story wasn’t one of the two women in the video.
The FBI is investigating the relationship between Mr Menendez and Mr Melgen, on whose plane the New Jersey senator flew three times to the Dominican Republic in 2010.
Mr Menendez paid $58,500 (€45,000) to Mr Melgen in January to cover two of the flights, which were for Senate business, after claiming he had forgotten to repay the businessman due to his busy schedule.
Mr Melgen, an eye doctor, and his family are substantial donors to the Democrats, in New Jersey and nationally. The businessman, family members and his company, Vitreo-Retinal Consultants, have paid more than $700,000 to the senator in campaign funds, directly and indirectly through a political campaign committee.
At a Senate hearing last year, Mr Menendez lobbied on behalf of a port security company part-owned by Mr Melgen which had a contract to X-ray cargo passing through Dominican ports. He didn’t name the company during the hearing.