Menendez not surprised by allegations of Cuban plot

Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's Morning Report: Can Trump close the deal with North Korea? Senate must save itself by confirming Mike Pompeo Poll: Menendez has 17-point lead over GOP challenger MORE (D-N.J.) said Tuesday he would not be surprised if the Cuban government did anything in its power to discredit him, including a fictitious smear campaign. 

Menendez's words were the first since reports emerged that his lawyer is asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether the Cuban government helped develop and plant a story smearing the senator with allegations of soliciting prostitutes ahead of the 2012 election.

"I wouldn't be surprised that the regime would do anything it can to stop me from being in a position that would ultimately impede their hopes of being able to get a different relationship with the United States based upon their interest but not the interest of the Cuban people," he told CNN

The New Jersey senator said he could not detail his lawyer’s actions but said the Justice Department should investigate. 

Menendez, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has been a fierce critic of the Cuban government. A Cuban American, Menendez has said the country has not undergone any political or economic changes that warrant lifting U.S. sanctions.

"For 22 years, between the House and the Senate, I have had a firm position in opposition to the Cuban regime that violates the human rights, the democracy of the people of Cuba," he said. "I have been outspoken in that regard. 

The Washington Post first reported that Menendez’s lawyer made the request after U.S. investigators obtained evidence, including IP addresses, which tie Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence to the story. 

According to the report, the information indicates the Cuban government helped create a fake online persona to tip off U.S. officials and others in the media that Menendez had solicited underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republican with one of his campaign donors, Salomon Melgen. 

The Justice Department is investigating Menendez regarding separate charges that he misused his office to help Melgen's business, according to The Post

Last year, the Justice Department investigated but did not find evidence to prove the prostitution claims. 

Menendez denied that his office was attempting to divert attention away from the other ongoing investigation by leaking the news. He said The Washington Post would need multiple credible sources to run with the story. 

"I think that is a pretty far-fetched idea," he said.