Bob Menendez and the ladies of the evening: What we know

David Martosko Executive Editor
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On Nov. 1, 2012, The Daily Caller published videotaped interviews with two women who said they were paid to have sex with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in the Dominican Republic.

This week The Washington Post and other media outlets cast doubt on that story, reporting uncritically on an affidavit filed Feb. 25 in the Dominican Republic and bearing the signature of a woman who has been unavailable for interviews, and whose existence no media outlet has yet corroborated.

Before publishing the story, TheDC independently corroborated some elements of the women’s claims, including Menendez’s nonexistent public schedule and the flight records of the private jet he was likely on during the weekend the women claimed their sexual encounters occurred. TheDC also vetted the source who brought the women forward, and reconfirmed details with that source after The Washington Post’s story broke Monday.

The saga continued to develop after the 2012 election, and reached its peak of public interest when a cache of documents appeared online Jan. 24, allegedly implicating Menendez in a long list of other prostitution-related activities, all while in that island nation.

Four weeks later on Feb. 24, TheDC published a story, after multiple interviews, with an American escort who said Menendez was one of her past clients who paid for sex. She told TheDC that Menendez was a serial “hobbyist” who “sees a lot of girls” for paid sexual trysts.

The Dominican affidavit was filed the next day, Feb. 25, although it was not publicized until Monday.

The American call girl’s description tends to support an article that appeared on the Gawker website on Nov. 1. Gawker interviewed Menendez’s neighbors who live in the apartment directly beneath his. They said the senator routinely entertained a variety of attractive female guests who they saw, through a window, invariably leaving at 3 a.m. and climbing into waiting taxis. They also described loud noises suggestive of sexual activity coming from Menendez’s apartment on a regular basis when those women visited.

But The Daily Caller’s first story is now being questioned. Nexis de los Santos Santana’s affidavit Monday said she was paid to give interviews last year implicating Menendez, his longtime donor Dr. Salomon Melgen, and Melgen’s cousin Vinicio Castillo Seman, who is a prominent lawyer and politician in that country.

The affidavit did not mention The Daily Caller. Dominican media outlets reported that Castillo was in charge of the press conference, and distributed the affidavit to media outlets — including The Washington Post. Miguel Galván, an attorney, provided his own affidavit, which supported de los Santos’ statements. The two appeared the same day before the same notary to dictate their statements.

New York Times reporter Frances Robles wrote on Twitter Thursday morning that Galván is not a disinterested party. He is employed by the same government anti-drug agency where Vinicio Castillo’s father is in charge as the Dominican Republic’s drug czar. She tweeted that this detail was originally part of a story the Times published Thursday, but that the detail “may have gone lost in the editing.”

Castillo was also implicated in the documents that surfaced online in January, which included the testimonials of two anonymous women who said they were paid for sex with the three men — Menendez, Melgen and Castillo — and that their sexual contact with Menendez began when they were 16 years old.

Some of the encounters, one said, happened on Castillo’s yacht, which is moored near Melgen’s resort home in the Dominican town of La Romana. Others allegedly occurred at that home.

One of the women wrote that the men “threatened those girls and told them to not talk, and that they couldn’t leave.”

TheDC interviewed a Dominican government official for a Nov. 5, 2012 story. That official had personal and direct knowledge of the sex parties that Menendez participated in at Melgen’s home, which typically featured “six, seven or eight” prostitutes.

Menendez has been going to Melgen’s villa “for at least the past three years, probably longer,” the official said, adding, however, that the parties were off-limits to women whom Melgen and Menendez thought were underage.

ABC News aired a story on “Good Morning America” Wednesday in which investigate reporter Brian Ross and producer Rhonda Schwartz said they interviewed the same women TheDC spoke to on camera in late October for the very first story. Ross and Schwartz reported that ABC never aired a story because they thought the women were coached and they could not independently verify their identities.

Ross and Schwartz also asserted that the mysterious Nexis de los Santos Santana was one of the women they — and by extension, The Daily Caller — interviewed on camera last year. ABC has not published or aired evidence to support that claim.

According to copies of emails in the dossier placed online on Jan. 24, a left-leaning government watchdog group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington gave Schwartz emails from a man calling himself Peter Williams, who said he represented young women who had sex with Menendez for money. That handover of documents occurred in May 2012, meaning that ABC News has had access to crucial elements of the story for 10 months.

While Peter Williams is likely an alias, and that person’s true identity has not been reported anywhere, ABC has not challenged the authenticity of the emails.

TheDC continues to stand by its reporting, which in November was focused on bringing the allegations to light. But several troubling elements in the story remain.

  • ABC News has not said how it knows the woman who called herself “Michelle” in their interviews is actually de los Santos, a woman who so far has not appeared in public. De los Santos did not attend Monday’s press conference. TheDC has been unable to find or contact her. Miguel Galván, her current attorney, has not responded to requests for comment left for him at the anti-drug agency where he works.
  • In her affidavit, de los Santos said she was paid to implicate all three men: Menendez, Melgen and Castillo. But in TheDC’s late October interviews, neither woman was able to identify a photo of Melgen, and Castillo’s name was never raised. TheDC was unaware of Castillo’s alleged involvement in the prostitution episodes until the online cache of documents implicated him in late January.
  • De los Santos also said in her statement that she was secretly taped, and that her comments were scripted ahead of time. In TheDC’s videotaped interviews, the women were aware they were being recorded by a computer webcam. They both wore an earpiece with a microphone attached, and looked into the camera. They answered questions without giving similar answers, and they spoke freely in the presence of their then-attorney, Melanio Figueroa.

Despite ABC’s reporting, it has not been shown that “Michelle,” whom TheDC did interview, is the same woman who swore out the affidavit on Feb. 25 — if in fact that woman is real.

After breaking the affidavit story Monday, The Washington Post quietly changed its story online without acknowledging it, removing a statement declaring that de los Santos was one of the women TheDC interviewed on camera.

FBI sources told The Daily Caller on Feb. 6 that their investigation had moved from Miami, where it began, to Newark, in Menendez’s home state of New Jersey. And FBI sources tell The Daily Caller the investigation continues.

Serious questions remain about the affidavits announced Monday, about the lawyer who signed one of them, and about the existence of Nexis de los Santos Santana. TheDC is actively pursuing the story, has investigators on the ground in the Dominican Republic, and will continue to report new facts as they emerge — whether or not they support its earlier reporting.

Charles C. Johnson contributed reporting.

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