TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez has accused the Cuban government of trying to take him down.

As CBS 2’s Dick Brennan reported, the lawmaker said the government tried to smear him with allegations that he cavorted with underage prostitutes.

“It should be pretty appalling that a foreign government would be engaged in trying to affect an election and or the position of a United States senator. And if that can happen, there are real consequences to our democracy,” the lawmaker said.

The allegations came as Menendez was running for re-election and was poised to become chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez is Cuban-American and for decades has been critical of the Cuban government.

Now, he’s calling on the Department of Justice to investigate a new report that he was the victim of a plot by the Cuban government.

The allegations came from three Dominican women who said they’d been paid to have sex with Menendez at a resort in the Caribbean. But last year the women recanted their story.

The Washington Post reported “The CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet Protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to prostitution claims, and efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media,” Brennan reported.

“Let’s remember how this all started: nameless, faceless accusations that ultimately proved themselves to be false, and early on, there were some indications about the possibility of the Cuban government’s involvement,” Menendez said.

The Department of Justice is already investigating whether Menendez used his influence to help Dr. Solomon Melgen, a top donor and friend.

Some ethics watch dog groups question the timing of the disclosure.

“It is Sen. Menendez and his legal team that are trying to muddy the waters and put them all together, and I think that might be a successful strategy for him,” said Melanie Sloan, with the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Putting this out now at a time when the investigation is escalating is a way to try and stop an indictment.

Menendez would not say whether his legal team made the new allegations public or that he’s in possession of secret government documents on the alleged Cuban link, Brennan reported.

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