The saga over prostitution allegations against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was thrust back into the headlines Monday when The Washington Post reported about an escort who claimed she was paid to say she had sex with the senator in exchange for money.
Since then, The Daily Caller — the conservative site that last fall published video interviews with prostitutes who claimed to have slept with Menendez — has taken issue with the Post’s reporting. Here’s how the story has played out in the past day.
The Washington Post Reports That The Prostitute’s Claim Was Fabricated
The Washington Post published a story online late Monday and updated it later. In the updated story, the Post reported that an escort who claimed last fall to have had sex with Menedez for money had more recently recanted her statement. The Post reported that it obtained affidavits, including one in which the woman, identified as 23-year-old Nexis de los Santos Santana, said she was actually paid to fabricate the charge. She said her original allegations had been recorded on video, and that a local lawyer had approached her and a fellow escort to help frame Menendez and a donor. She said she had never met Menendez, according to the Post. In the affidavits, a lawyer named Miguel Galvan said he was involved in the scheme to take the women’s claims, but that he had been deceived by another lawyer, who was not named by the Post. The Post did not name the escort or the lawyers in its original report but added Galvan’s name in the later version.
Vinicio Castillo Selman — a cousin of Florida doctor, businessman and Menendez donor Salomon Melgen — released copies of the affidavits from de los Santos and Galvan, according to the Post. The escort had also implicated Castillo in the prostitution scandal.
The Associated Press Publishes Report From Dominican Republic
Later Monday, the Associated Press published a report from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The AP’s story identified the other lawyer as Melanio Figueroa. Figueroa was allegedly responsible for arranging the claims against Menendez, according to the report. The AP did not name Galvan in its report. It identified the escort by the shorter name Nexis de los Santos.
Figueroa Disputes Claims
Figueroa told the Miami Herald that the allegations he arranged for the escorts to lie were “totally false.” He said he had been hired to represent the women in some type of case and had not had contact with them for months. “It was a case that I handled for these women and faithfully represented them for what they said,” he told the paper.
The Daily Caller Responds
The Daily Caller, the conservative news site that originally ran video interviews with two alleged escorts, took issue with the Post’s report. “The Washington Post mistook one prostitute for another Monday in a report that initially seemed to debunk a November 2012 Daily Caller exposé of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez,” The Daily Caller’s executive editor David Martosko wrote early Tuesday morning.
The Daily Caller reported that neither of the women in its video was the woman referenced in the Post’s article. Martosko wrote that the women interviewed by the Daily Caller had said they were both 24, older than the woman in the Post, and neither went by the name Nexis de los Santos. (In The Daily Caller’s interviews, the women’s faces were blurred out.)
ABC News Reports It, Too, Interviewed The Escorts Last Fall
At about 2 a.m. ET Tuesday, ABC News tweeted a link to its own report on the story. The network’s Rhonda Schwartz and Brian Ross reported that the women who appeared in the Daily Caller’s videos also sat for what the network described as “on-line interviews” with ABC News. GOP operatives helped arrange the interviews, the report said, and the videos were not broadcast on ABC “because of doubts about the women’s veracity and identity.” The report said de los Santos previously told ABC News her name was Michelle Rodriguez.
It’s notable, too, that Ross has had some problems with his reporting in the past, including falsely reporting in July 2012 that the alleged Aurora, Colo., movie theater gunman, James Holmes, had ties to the tea party. Both Ross and ABC News apologized for the claim. The ABC News report about the Menendez case posted online also had at least one clear error: Its time stamp said it was published on March 6, 2013.
The Daily Caller Responds Again
The Daily Caller released a statement Tuesday morning to stand by its Menendez reporting. It said the Post “falsely reported a story yesterday claiming our source had recanted her statement, without contacting The Daily Caller for comment before posting.” The statement said the escort referenced in the Post’s story “does not appear to be one of the women we interviewed in 2012.”
Below is the Daily Caller’s full statement:
The Washington Post falsely reported a story yesterday claiming our source had recanted her statement, without contacting The Daily Caller for comment before posting. In reality, the prostitute in the Post’s story does not appear to be one of the women we interviewed in 2012. Details provided by the prostitute identified as Ms. Santana in the Post story conflict with the taped interviews The Daily Caller posted on November 1, including the mention of a person whose name would not come to light for months afterward. In addition, Melanio Figueroa, the attorney for TheDC’s sources, has said the Post’s allegations are fabricated and that the affidavit is false. The Post would not provide TheDC with a copy of the affidavit, despite our request. We stand by our reporting.
The Washington Post Stands By Its Story
The Washington Post defended its reporting from The Daily Caller’s attacks Tuesday. Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti told Politico that the paper did reach out to The Daily Caller, but never got a response. “We stand by that and our reporting,” she said.
The Daily Caller Says It’s Verifying Its Story
In an appearance Tuesday afternoon on CNN, The Daily Caller executive editor Martosko said the site is working to verify its original story.
“Have you gone back to your source who set this up to verify that these women were not paid?” CNN’s Brianna Keilar asked Martosko.
“We’re doing that today. And I’d be more than happy to come back on the air and talk to you about it.” Martosko said.
The Daily Caller Accuses Washington Post Of Quietly Editing Its Menendez Story
On Tuesday afternoon, The Daily Caller called out the Post for editing the previous day’s Menendez story. “Without informing readers in the story or elsewhere, on Monday night The Washington Post deleted its explicit claim that the Dominican prostitute who recanted her allegation against Sen. Robert Menendez had appeared in a video posted to The Daily Caller,” associate editor Gregg Re wrote. At the end of the post, The Daily Caller ribbed the Post for deciding to do away with the paper’s longtime ombudsman position.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com