"It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they've done successfully."Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Shortly before the November elections, the conservative Daily Caller dropped a bit of a bombshell: Two Dominican prostitutes said on video that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) had paid them for sex, but short-changed them. Menendez denied it.
Now, The Washington Post has a bombshell of its own: One of those prostitutes claims in a sworn affidavit that she lied about sleeping with Menendez, and in fact had never met him. (Watch MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell criticize The Daily Caller's accusation below.)
According to the affidavit, the recanting prostitute is a 23-year-old woman named Nexis de los Santos Santana; she and her lawyer, Miguel Galván, swear that they were tricked by fellow Dominican lawyer Melanio Figueroa, who allegedly hired them to lie about sleeping with Menendez as part of a trumped-up divorce case involving wealthy Dominican-American ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, a prominent Menendez donor.
The person touting the affidavit at a press conference in the Dominican Republic was Vinicio Castillo Semán, a prominent lawyer in his own right and a cousin of Melgen. Menendez, Melgen, and Castillo all deny having hired or slept with prostitutes. Figueroa tells The Miami Herald that Galvan's claim that he tricked Santana into lying on camera is "totally false.... It was a case that I handled for these women and faithfully represented them for what they said."
The Daily Caller responded to the new reporting by alleging that The Post had identified the wrong prostitute. But with all the holes and loose ends in the rebuttal, "their defense isn't much more solid than the original story," says Dashiell Bennett at The Atlantic Wire. The bottom line:
If someone was paying Dominican prostitutes to make up stories about the senator, then the credibility of anyone telling the same story has to now be in question. Especially because there seems to be no other proof (according to the FBI) that Menendez is guilty. The woman in the Post story may be lying now, but nothing in The Daily Caller's response proves that she is. [Atlantic Wire]
"There is undoubtedly more reporting to come," says Steve Kornacki at Salon, but "if the new claims are true, a key question will involve the identity of the other lawyer — the one who contacted the Dominican lawyer who hired the two women."
Well, "if I were looking into it I'd start in Falls Church, Va.," says Max Read at Gawker, "where — The [New York] Times reported last month — 'a small team of veteran Republican investigators' has been leading the anti-Menendez charge."
Figueroa is the linchpin here, according to the testimony from Santana and Galván, and "Castillo said he does not know who paid Figueroa," says Marc Caputo at The Miami Herald. "The only information in the court papers suggests it was one of Figueroa's clients in Santiago who 'had a problem with some shipping containers.'" That brings us back to the less salacious scandal that Menendez is embroiled in: He allegedly tried to shape U.S. shipping contracts to help Melgen. Maybe when the FBI is done with its investigation, these dots will be connected, says Salon's Kornacki. In the meantime, "while there's still a lot of murkiness to the whole story, its most salacious aspect appears to have turned dramatically in favor of Menendez."
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