Conservative writers took a victory lap this week after a Justice Department filing made reference to “corroborating evidence” of allegations involving Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and underage prostitutes.
Overlooked by many of those same writers, however, was a reference in the same filing that said those allegations remained “unproven.”
A headline over at The Daily Caller, which first published interviews in November 2012 with two escorts who said they had sex with Menendez, blared: “DOJ: Underage Prostitution Allegations Against Robert Menendez Backed By ‘Corroborating Evidence.'”
Matthew Boyle, one of the reporters who worked on The Daily Caller’s Menendez stories and who now writes at Breitbart, similarly gloated.
“The entire mainstream media bought repeated denials from Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) of allegations that he solicited underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, but now the Department of Justice says the allegations are in fact ‘corroborated,'” Boyle wrote.
But the DOJ filing didn’t indicate that the Daily Caller’s reporting on the prostitution allegations was sound. Instead, what prosecutors argued was that even though the prostitution allegations were ultimately unproven, the alleged bribery scheme that was uncovered in the process of investigating it was still legitimate.
“Presented with specific, corroborated allegations that defendants Menendez and [Dr. Salomon] Melgen had sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, the Government responsibly and dutifully investigated those serious allegations,” prosecutors wrote. “The indictment here, of course, charges only corruption and does not include any allegations of soliciting underage prostitution.”
Attorneys for Menendez and Melgen filed a series of motions last month urging a judge to dismiss the corruption charges. One of the motions argued that the charges were tainted by the unproven prostitution allegations. Menendez asked the DOJ last year to look into evidence reportedly obtained by the CIA that indicated Cuban operatives planted the prostitution allegations in the media to smear him.
This week, prosecutors responded to the defendants by arguing that questionable origins didn’t invalidate the fruits of a federal investigation.
“There is no legal basis for such a position, which would result in the dismissal of countless indictments brought around the country initiated by tips from a scorned lover, disgruntled employee, rival gang member, or cheated business partner,” they wrote in the filing.
For its original story on the prostitution allegations, The Daily Caller spoke with two women in The Dominican Republic via webcam. The website said the women’s attorney was present for the interview, which was conducted using a translator. The Daily Caller also obscured the women’s faces in the video, which is apparently no longer available, because they feared reprisals.
One of the documents filed by the DOJ on Monday even mentioned The Daily Caller’s video interviews with the women, citing them as some of the early factors in the investigation.
The Daily Caller’s story on the prostitution allegations faced several challenges after it was originally published.
First, The Washington Post reported in March 2013 on affidavits showing an escort was paid to say on video that she had sex with Menendez in the fall of 2012. Then, ABC News revealed they sat down for videotaped interviews with the same two escorts who spoke with The Daily Caller but ultimately decided not to publish them “because of doubts about the women’s veracity and identity.” The Daily Caller stood by its reporting at the time.
The Daily Caller continued to stand by the prostitution story even after Menendez requested the DOJ look into the alleged Cuban smear plot in July 2014. The Washington Post had reported that U.S. intelligence obtained credible evidence linking Cuban operatives to efforts to place the child prostitution allegations in U.S. and Latin American media outlets.
Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson at first called the news of the alleged Cuban smear plot “bizarre” and said the news site would continue making calls to see what it could dig up. He did an about-face a day later and told TPM that Menendez was “lying,” citing news reports that contradicted The Washington Post’s reporting on the alleged Cuban smear plot.
Yet even though it may be too soon for the Daily Caller to claim victory, Menendez is far from in the clear. He is still fighting federal corruption charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty. And federal authorities on Monday also revealed the existence of a black notebook that agents said “looked to be a ledger of prostitution activities” and contained the senator’s name.
Asked to comment Tuesday on whether he felt the DOJ filing vindicated The Daily Caller’s reporting, editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson responded to TPM in a one-word email: “Obviously.”