The federal government has no proof that the Cuban government plotted to smear New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.
That’s according to a senior U.S. official who spoke with The New York Times Tuesday.
A second official agreed that the U.S. government has not substantiated Sen. Menendez’s claim that Cuban agents set out to hurt his reputation ahead of the 2012 election.
Separately, NBC4 New York also reported Tuesday evening that “[t]here is no credible evidence that Cuban government agents hatched a smear campaign” against Menendez, citing government officials.
Menendez made those claims through his lawyer — The Washington Post reported Monday — who asked the Justice Department in April to investigate whether the Cuban government was behind a campaign to smear him with allegations that he slept with underage prostitutes.
Interviews with two Dominican women who accused the senator of such wrongdoing first appeared in The Daily Caller.
The Times notes that Menendez now appears to be engaged in a public relations campaign aimed at disrupting federal investigations into whether he used his powerful political office to advance the business interests of a top donor.
But those investigations, the Times reports, continue unabated.
“Early on, there were some indications about the possibility of the Cuban government’s involvement,” Menendez told CNN Tuesday afternoon.
But the Times expressed skepticism about that claim, citing a January letter Menendez’s lawyers sent to the Justice Department, which lacked any mention “of Cuban involvement.”
Only in April did Menendez’s lawyers mention the Cuban government in the second letter to the Justice Department.
Menendez appeared eager Tuesday to rely on The Washington Post’s publication of his allegations against the Cuban government as evidence to support his claim.
“[P]erhaps your legal team made this information public as a diversion,” CNN’s Dana Bash suggested Tuesday, “as a way to sort of muck up the federal investigation of you.”
“Well, first of all, I think that you have to have – I think a credible entity like The Washington Post would have to have their own sources,” said Menendez. “And they would have to verify their sources. So I think that’s [a] pretty far-fetched idea.”
The Post claimed two sources in its effort to corroborate Menendez’s claims: “a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence” and “a second person with close ties to Menendez who had been briefed on the matter.”
The first source told the Post that the CIA had information connecting Cuban agents to the prostitution claims.
A spokeswoman for Menendez did not respond to an inquiry about whether anyone connected to the Democrat directed the Post to that source.
Pressed by CNN Tuesday on whether he had proof of Cuban involvement, Menendez answered: “Look, you know, it seems to me that based upon what the Post sources are, that it’s the government that has the proof.”
That interview aired prior to The New York Times and NBC reports.