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Menendez turns tables on accusers

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he is hoping to find out who paid a prostitute he never met to say she had sex with him, throwing his career into turmoil.

But Menendez stopped short of calling on the FBI to look into the matter. Instead, he is relying on members of the media, who have hounded him for weeks, to solve the mystery.

Menendez said he has no likely suspects in mind.

“I have no idea, I have no idea. I hope we find out,” he said, walking to a vote Tuesday.

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Earlier in the day, Menendez urged reporters to investigate who was behind the accusations with the same gusto they brought to scrutinizing his relationship with Florida eye doctor and political donor Salomon Melgen.

“I hope that you will all vigorously go after who was the source and purpose as you did go after the story at the time,” he told reporters. “We’ll continue to look at it as it develops, but it is just a part of what I said all along was the case.”

“Look, I don’t know more than what I have read. But I do know from the very beginning I have said that nameless, faceless, anonymous sources ... from the right-wing blogs took this story,” he added.  

Menendez said the accusations were picked up by right-wing blogs to smear his name as he faced reelection in 2012.

“They were never anything other than false smears,” he said.

The Washington Post reported Monday that the escort who made the claims, Nexis de los Santos Santana, had signed an affidavit admitting she was paid to make the accusation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday again declared his unqualified support for Menendez.

“I’m a friend of Bob Menendez. He’s a terrific senator and I stand behind him all the way,” he said.

Ethics experts say Menendez is not out of trouble yet, however. He still faces an Ethics Committee investigation into his relationship with Melgen, who took Menendez on vacation to the Dominican Republic aboard his private plane.

The ethics panel took up the probe around the time the FBI raided Melgen’s offices and Menendez announced he had reimbursed Melgen $58,500 for two flights to the Dominican Republic in 2010.

Reid on Tuesday declined to call on the Ethics Committee to drop its investigation.

“The Ethics Committee will do what they feel is appropriate,” he said.

Given the cloud still hanging over Menendez, it remains to be seen how prominent a role the senator will play in the push for comprehensive immigration reform, one of President Obama’s highest priorities.

Menendez has continued to attend weekly meetings with the Gang of Eight negotiating a bipartisan reform package and participated in a recent meeting with the president on the issue.

“You have the issues of what Menendez did for Melgen,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which alerted the FBI in June of allegations it received from an anonymous tipster that Menendez had engaged in “inappropriate sexual activities.”

“This doesn’t change what’s under investigation there,” she said.  

Sloan said she never considered the allegation that Menendez paid money for sex as credible because the tipster refused to talk on the phone or put her group in touch with the women making the claims.

“The real question is why the Daily Caller ran a story with such an obvious credibility problem,” she said.

The Daily Caller, a conservative-leaning online publication, spearheaded coverage of the allegations when many other media outlets were reluctant to touch the explosive story because of the difficulty of verifying it.

The Daily Caller said Tuesday the Dominican woman identified by The Post was not one of the two prostitutes it initially interviewed in its reporting on Menendez.

While the sexual allegations involving Menendez might have been significantly weakened, Sloan said, there is plenty of other questionable behavior to investigate.

The Washington Post reported Menendez admitted to contacting officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to raise questions about a finding Melgen had overbilled the government by nearly $9 million.

The New York Times reported Menendez discouraged the federal government from donating port security equipment to the Dominican Republic, which would have undermined a contract a company owned by Melgen had to provide security screenings.

“We know that Melgen contributed a lot of money to Menendez and we know the things Menendez was doing for Melgen. Those things look bad irrespective of the prostitution allegations,” Sloan said.

— Updated at 8:05 p.m.