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Senator's Cuban Spy Claims Put Several Conservative Journalists On Defense

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AP Photo / Charles Dharapak

The Washington Post broke the news Monday night that Menendez had asked the Justice Department to look into the evidence gathered by American officials that Cuban intelligence officers planted the false story to smear the senator.

The New Jersey Democrat's attorney asserted in a letter to the Justice Department that Cuba wanted to upend the career of Menendez, a vocal critic of Fidel Castro's regime who was on the cusp of assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee at the time the prostitution allegations surfaced in late-2012.

Tucker Carlson, the longtime conservative pundit and editor-in-chief of the Daily Caller, told WaPo that he'd be surprised if the allegations were in fact concocted by the Cuban government but he acknowledged that he couldn't "assess it without more information."

“It’s bizarre on its face, but also fascinating," Carlson said.

In an email to Business Insider published early Tuesday morning, Carlson went even further in expressing skepticism, once again calling the claim "bizarre" and making a point to question Menendez's credibility.

"I guess this means Menendez no longer thinks the story is part of a racist plot against him, as he initially suggested," Carlson said in the email. "But Cuban intelligence? It's a bizarre claim, and self-serving, and they've produced no evidence of any kind to prove it. Obviously we're skeptical, but we're making calls right now to see what we can dig up."

Carlson did not respond to an email or phone message from TPM on Tuesday.

The original allegations first appeared in the Daily Caller in November 2012 — mere days before Menendez secured re-election — in an article authored by Matthew Boyle, a conservative journalist who now writes for Breitbart News.

Boyle's story included a video interview with two unnamed women from the Dominican Republic who spoke through a translator and claimed that Menendez paid them for sex earlier in 2012.

Charles C. Johnson, the journalist who's been kicking up dust lately in the Mississippi Senate dispute, contributed to that original story.

Boyle left for Breitbart a month after the piece ran. Following his departure, David Martosko, the Daily Caller's executive editor at the time, penned several follow-up articles on the prostitution allegations, including some that were co-authored by Johnson. Martosko now serves as the U.S. politics editor at the London-based Daily Mail newspaper.

In a piece written in February 2013, Martosko reported that an "alleged prostitute" lived in a condominium owned by Salomon Melgen, a Menendez donor currently being investigated by the feds.

Martosko also vigorously defended the Daily Caller's reporting after WaPo reported in March 2013 that an escort claimed she was paid to fabricate the allegations against Menendez.

Around that same time, a pair of journalists at ABC News revealed that they also interviewed the escorts — which the journalists said were arranged by Republican operatives — but they ultimately passed on the story "because of doubts about the women's veracity and identity."

The Daily Caller hasn't reported on the prostitution allegations since March 2013, the same month that Martosko bolted for the Daily Mail.

Martosko hasn't said much since WaPo's story broke Monday night and he wouldn't speak to TPM on the record.

Johnson, on the other hand, had plenty to say. A prolific Twitter user, he dismissed the WaPo report in a series of a missives fired off Monday night.

Always one to hype his purported scoops, Johnson claimed that he had "the goods" on Menendez and intimated that he would reveal the source of the prostitution allegations.

He emphasized Menendez's ties to Melgen, deflecting the criticism aimed at his reporting with Boyle.

He also questioned why WaPo "can trace emails back to Cuba" but can't locate the missing emails belonging to Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the agency's targeting scandal.

Johnson also said that he'd have the last laugh once he published his smoking gun.

In another tweet, Johnson borrowed the bellicose language that's been employed in the past by Boyle, who has used his journalistic platforms to play an active role in a conservative strategy group's messaging campaigns.

When reached by TPM on Tuesday, Johnson wouldn't elaborate on "the goods" that he supposedly has on Menendez.

"I'm waiting for as many people to make fools of themselves first before I release the smoking guns. I encourage you to join them...but, of course, at your own risk," Johnson wrote in an email

Boyle declined to speak to TPM on the record.