Menendez: CIA says Cuba set up prostitution allegations

That would answer quite a few questions about the allegations surrounding Senator Robert Menendez’ trips to the Dominican Republic, courtesy of his good friend Salomon Melgen, but it doesn’t answer all of them. Two years ago, a shadowy figure named “Pete Williams” alleged that Melgen had arranged underaged prostitutes for Menendez on these trips, and the Daily Caller interviewed two women who claimed to have taken part in these sexcapades with the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That part of the story didn’t add up, and Menendez says the CIA has discovered why:

In a letter sent to Justice Department officials, the senator’s attorney asserts that the plot was timed to derail the ­political rise of Menendez (D-N.J.), one of Washington’s most ardent critics of the Castro regime. At the time, Menendez was running for reelection and was preparing to assume the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media.

The alleged Cuba connection was laid out in an intelligence report provided last year to U.S. government officials and sent by secure cable to the FBI’s counterintelligence division, according to the former official and a second person with close ties to Menendez who had been briefed on the matter.

The intelligence information indicated that operatives from Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence helped create a fake tipster using the name “Pete Williams,” according to the former official. The tipster told FBI agents and others he had information about Menendez participating in poolside sex parties with underage prostitutes while vacationing at the Dominican Republic home of Salomon Melgen, a wealthy eye doctor, donor and friend of the senator.

Even at the time, the story seemed fishy, as I pointed out in November 2012. The timing with the election was just too clever by half, and the idea that these women had just discovered who “Bob” was seemed rather difficult to believe. By January, we discovered that “Pete Williams” had been dodging the FBI, and then started dodging Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which had forwarded the allegations to the FBI in the first place. News stories floated to the surface about Menendez and prostitution for another month … and then suddenly ended in February 2013.

If “Pete Williams” turns out to have been a Cuban agent, that answers some of the mysteries involved in the Menendez-Melgen case. However, it doesn’t answer all of them. Nor does it end a larger probe into Menendez for more mundane forms of corruption, as the Post notes:

The FBI’s investigation into the prostitution claims was part of the broader and more substantive Justice Department inquiry into the Menendez-Melgen relationship.

Menendez twice intervened with top federal health-care officials to dispute their agency’s finding that Melgen had overbilled Medicare by $8.9 million for eye treatments at his clinics. The senator also urged top officials at the State and Commerce departments to use their influence over the Dominican Republic to enforce a port security contract for a company in which Melgen was part owner.

The status of the larger probe is uncertain. But according to two people familiar with the investigation, the Justice Department’s public-integrity section and FBI agents are actively pursuing the inquiry and eyeing possible charges against Menendez.

A federal grand jury took up the case more than a year ago, and the media has taken a little more interest in the influence peddling than other kinds of peddling. Melgen made headlines again this spring when he turned out to be the highest-paid Medicare doctor in the country, which might draw scrutiny all over again to the Florida ophthalmologist.

It looks like Menendez may be off the hook on prostitution allegations, but not off the hook for prostituting his office. Does Menendez want to be proclaiming this possible vindication-in-part very loudly and attract attention once again to the rest of the questions about his integrity?

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