Did Cuban Agents Plant a Daily Caller Story Smearing Democratic Sen. Menendez?

A man walks past a painting of Cuban revolutionary hero Che Guevara in Havana on January 29, 2014 Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

When you think "Daily Caller," the first thing that springs to mind is probably not "patsy in Communist plot to smear U.S. senator." But according to The Washington Post, that's precisely what reporters Matthew Boyle and Charles C. Johnson became when they reported that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez paid two women for sex in the Dominican Republic. A former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence told the Post that the CIA has obtained "credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media."

According to the Post, the first allegations of misconduct on Menendez's part began in the spring of 2012. An anonymous tipster using the alias "Pete Williams" contacted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, with information about Menendez's "inappropriate sexual activities with young prostitutes" in April of that year. In September, "GOP operatives" arranged Skype calls between ABC News and three women who claimed that Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, had paid them for sex. However, "none of the women could produce identity cards with their names, and they all provided the same story almost word for word, as if they had been coached," ABC said. Whether "Pete Williams" was an alias used by Republican operatives or Cuban intelligence officials remains unclear.

When asked by Newsweek where his story came from, Boyle (in rather colorful language) refused to comment, but insisted he stands by his reporting. In an email correspondence with Newsweek, Johnson came out fighting:

"I look forward to exposing Senator Menendez's corrupt practices in the coming weeks. I have not published the smoking gun out of respect for the ongoing FBI investigation into [Menendez friend and campaign donor] Salomon Melgen's alleged illegal activity and the Senator's involvement in said activity. No Cuban agent was involved at any level of the story; it's a distraction campaign to mask the senator's involvement. In other words, I look forward to taking my victory lap and it may be sooner than you think."

Boyle and Johnson's story went viral on right-wing news sites, but saw little coverage elsewhere. An FBI investigation turned up nothing. Three months afterThe Daily Caller published its story, both ABC News and the Post reported that the two women who had spoken to Boyle and Johnson had recanted their testimony.

Even if that "smoking gun" never materializes, Boyle and Johnson need not worry. Judith Miller still gets work.

Correction: This article originally stated that both women recanted one week after The Daily Caller's story. ABC News and The Washington Post did not report that fact until approximately three months later, not one week.