March 5, 2013
(J. Scott Applewhite, File/Associated Press)
(J. Scott Applewhite, File/Associated Press)

Daily Caller Editor-in-Chief Tucker Carlson said this morning of the conflicting news accounts published by his site and the Washington Post: “The Post’s piece is wrong,” he told the Erik Wemple Blog early this morning.

Yesterday afternoon The Post’s Carol Leonnig and Ernesto Londoño reported that an escort in the Dominican Republic had recanted earlier claims made in a videotaped interview with the Daily Caller that New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D) had paid her to have sex with him. The woman has never met the senator, reported The Post, based on “court documents and two people briefed on her claim.”

The Daily Caller story premiered on Nov. 1, alleging the following:

In interviews, the two women said they met Menendez around Easter at Casa de Campo, an expensive 7,000-acre resort in the Dominican Republic. They claimed Menendez agreed to pay them $500 for sex acts, but in the end they each received only $100.

The faces of the women in the interview were blurred beyond recognition. Nor was the motive for their participation clear, beyond the possibility that they felt cheated out of $400. Also noted in the piece was the connection between Menendez and Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye surgeon, Menendez campaign donor and host of get-togethers at Casa de Campo.

Via The Post’s account, one of the women, 23-year-old Nexis de los Santos Santana, has declared that “a local lawyer had approached her and a fellow escort and asked them to help frame Menendez and … Melgen,” according to affidavits.

Since no story involving trips overseas, prostitution and politics can ever be easily explainable, here’s another wrinkle highlighted in The Post’s piece:

That lawyer has in turn identified a second Dominican lawyer who he said gave the woman a script and paid her to read the claims aloud. The first lawyer said he found out only later that the remarks would be videotaped and used against Menendez, the affidavits say.

Here’s the skinny on the double-lawyer thing: De los Santos and lawyer Miguel Galván have entered the sworn affidavits charging that they were ““duped as part of an elaborate plan,” according to the Miami Herald, involving a divorce case between a “Dominican woman” and Melgen.

The way Galván tells it, a Dominican lawyer named Melanio Figueroa was looking to shore up the divorce case with some helpful testimony. Figueroa, charges Galván, allegedly asked him to round up prostitutes to generate videos for the case. “[Galván] turned to de los Santos, who was supposed to ask a friend to also record a video. They met at Jumbo, an upscale grocery and department store in La Romana, according to the testimony,” writes the Herald. The Daily Caller disclosed that Figueroa was present at the interview; Figueroa has denied wrongdoing.

Beyond that weirdness, The Daily Caller contends that the recanter wasn’t in its interview to begin with. According to a story posted to the site early this morning:

While the Post said it had an affidavit from a woman in the Dominican Republic admitting she fabricated claims Menendez paid her for sex, that woman was not one of the two prostitutes TheDC interviewed for a Nov. 1 report.

In a February interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, the author of the Daily Caller piece, Matthew Boyle, said, “I talked to two of the prostitutes, I saw their faces, I heard their voices…and I know their names. I’m not going to release [the names] because given the violent and dangerous nature of the business down there, these women are in jeopardy.” Boyle has since moved to Breitbart.com.

The Daily Caller’s pushback story raises the possibility of yet another woman at the interview:

It is unclear if only two women were prepared to speak to TheDC at the time of the interviews. A third woman was allegedly standing by to speak with TheDC when the laptop being used in the Dominican Republic ran out of battery life, according to the translator.

Boyle himself has struck back on Breitbart.com, advancing a number of points to debunk the Post story. Among them is that the new twist in the case — including the affidavits — stemmed from the work of Vinicio Castillo, a “powerful Dominican lawyer and political figure connected to Melgen and Menendez professionally and personally.”

The charges and countercharges, the double-lawyer intrigue, the journalistic push and pushback — it all means little in light of this paragraph of The Post story, which refers to the prostitution allegations against Menendez that an anonymous tipster began spreading nearly a year ago:

FBI agents conducting interviews in the Dominican Republic have found no evidence to back up the tipster’s allegations, according to two people briefed on their work.

Various media organizations, including the Herald, the New York Times
and CNN, have attempted in vain to substantiate the story.

The Post and the Daily Caller are quite clearly talking past each other on this Menendez stuff. From yesterday’s Post story: “Daily Caller Editor Tucker Carlson did not reply to phone calls and e-mails requesting comment.” From the Daily Caller response piece: “Post reporter Carol D. Leonnig did not respond to requests for comment Monday night, and did not provide TheDC with a copy of the affidavit.” (Leonnig was unavailable for comment for this piece; we’ll update once we connect).

There’ll be a great deal more to come on this, both at the Erik Wemple Blog and elsewhere. Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the nonprofit that originally fielded the tipster’s charges, says, “These latest revelations raise even more questions about what’s really going on. It’s impossible to know what’s true and hopefully law enforcement can get to the bottom of this.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.