The latest Senate sex scandal might not be so scandalous after all.
“You know how when a politician gets caught in a sex scandal and has a spokesperson put out a statement saying, ‘We’re not going to respond to a completely false accusation?’ Sometimes the accusation is completely false,” msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell said on Monday’s edition of The Last Word.
Five days before the election last year, New Jersey Sen. Bob Mendez got caught in a similar story when the conservative-leaning website The Daily Caller posted a bombshell story: "Women: Senator Bob Menendez Paid Us For Sex in the Dominican Republic." The piece included an interview with two women who identified themselves as prostitutes about their experiences with the New Jersey senator, after showing them a photograph of him. Shortly thereafter Menendez’s office issued a statement to The Daily News, saying simply, "we’re not going to respond to a completely false accusation."
Team Menendez tried to carry on as if nothing had happened, and on Nov. 6, the Democrat won re-election with 59% of the vote—20 points ahead of the Republican challenger.
But, the bad press continued to bog down the lawmaker, first with the sex scandal allegations and potential ethics violations, which The New York Times and other outlets have extensively covered, as O’Donnell noted, calling into question the senator’s “uncomfortably close relationship with a campaign contributor.”
On Monday, another big story broke about Menendez. The Washington Post reported the prostitutes' claims were completely made up:
"An escort who appeared on a video claiming that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) paid her for sex has told Dominican authorities that she was instead paid to make up the claims and has never met or seen the senator, according to court documents and two people briefed on her claim. The woman said a local lawyer had approached her and a fellow escort and asked them to help frame Menendez and a top donor, Salomon Melgen, according to affidavits obtained by The Washington Post. 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."
Menendez told reporters on Monday, "I've always said that these are all false, they're smears, and so I look forward to seeing whatever the Dominican courts have to prove what I said all along."
However, The Daily Caller issued a statement on Tuesday, standing by their story. They suggested WaPo talked to the wrong escort:
"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."
O’Donnell said “there are a lot of good questions to ask Bob Menendez” and “those questions involve the senator flying on the contributor’s private plane and various favors the senator appears to have done involving the contributor’s business interests with the federal government.”