Was Cuba Behind Daily Caller’s Debunked Menendez-Prostitute Story?

July 8, 2014 7:29 a.m.
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Did the Cuban government dupe The Daily Caller?

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has reportedly asked the Justice Department to look into an alleged smear plot the Cuban government concocted to plant stories about his alleged involvement with underage prostitutes in U.S. and Latin American news outlets, including the conservative website.

Citing former U.S. officials and people with close ties to Menendez, The Washington Post reported Monday that the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including IP addresses, linking Cuban agents to efforts to disseminate the prostitution allegations. Menendez’s attorney sent a letter to the Justice Department in April requesting that it pursue that evidence, further alleging that the Cuban government sought to derail the senator’s political career as he was poised to head up the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Daily Caller’s editor-in-chief, Tucker Carlson, told the Post it would be difficult to verify whether a story written by one of his reporters actually originated with the Castro regime.

“I really can’t assess it without more information,” Carlson told the newspaper. “It’s bizarre on its face, but also fascinating.”

A spokesperson for Menendez said she found it “extremely disturbing” that U.S. intelligence indicated the Cuban government was the source of the prostitution allegations.

“The Washington Post’s report that the CIA has concluded a foreign intelligence service sought to manipulate U.S. policy by spreading false rumors to the FBI and to media outlets is extremely disturbing,” Menendez communications director Tricia Enright told TPM in an email. “We hope the Department of Justice and other appropriate federal agencies will investigate this matter aggressively and hold anyone involved fully accountable.”

Several months after The Daily Caller published its original report, the conservative site sparred with the Washington Post over the newspaper’s debunking of the prostitution allegations. The Post reported that a woman who said she had sex with Menendez for money later claimed she was actually paid to fabricate that claim. The Daily Caller argued that neither of the women it interviewed for its own story were referenced in the Post’s report.

ABC News revealed in the midst of that kerfluffle that that it had also interviewed the two women who sat for videotaped interviews with The Daily Caller. The network’s Rhonda Schwartz and Brian Ross reported that they “did not broadcast or initially report on the claims because of doubts about the women’s veracity and identity.”

As The Daily Caller’s story unraveled, it was also reported that a man named “Carlos” approached the attorney who arranged interviews with the alleged prostitutes and claimed he worked for the conservative website. The attorney claimed “Carlos” offered him $5,000 to find young women to say they were paid to have sex with the New Jersey Democrat.

The Daily Caller denied that anyone named “Carlos” went to the Dominican Republic at the website’s behest, and Carlson himself said no one was paid in connection with the escort story in a statement on his own website. The website later acknowledged that a man identifying himself as “Carlos” did in fact serve as the translator for the interviews on which its original report was based. The translator was not compensated, The Daily Caller said.

Read the Washington Post’s whole report here.

This post has been updated.

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