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Vitter’s Weiner Problem

At the very least, you have to admit that it’s a little ironic: It certainly seems that, thus far, aside from Representative Weiner himself, no other elected official has been more damaged and criticized as a result of the Weiner scandal than Senator David Vitter, Louisiana’s junior United States Senator, a conservative Republican who is best known to the world for his participation, as a client, in the D.C. Madam prostitution ring.

Recently, in a complete reversal, Bill O’Reilly suggested that David Vitter should resign. “I don’t think he (Vitter) should be there (Congress). Absolutely not,” O’Reilly said. Even conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart, the man who broke the Anthony Weiner story, agrees. Last weekend, while enjoying a large glass of red wine in a hotel bar in Minnesota, Breitbart was asked directly about Vitter:



I am not a fan of Andrew Breitbart, and considering his direct involvement in the so-called PimpGate scandal and the attempted shakedown of Shirley Sherrod, I don’t believe he’s in any position to lecture anyone else about ethics or integrity. But like him or not, he’s got a point about Vitter: When you’re a sitting United States Senator and you’re caught up in a prostitution ring, you set yourself up for blackmail and extortion.

Yesterday, a group of Christian conservatives, Family Policy Network, sent Vitter a letter demanding his resignation, telling The Times-Picayune that Republicans are “committing outright hypocrisy” by allowing Vitter to remain in office.

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Senate ethics committee to investigate Vitter on charges of “bribery,” because Vitter is, very literally, refusing to agree for a pay raise for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unless Salazar gives out more permits to Vitter’s friends in the off-shore energy business. From Politico:

Salazar makes about $19,600 less than other Cabinet secretaries because the Constitution prohibits a House or Senate member from being appointed to an executive branch job whose pay has risen during the lawmaker’s term. As a senator from Colorado, Salazar had voted to increase the salary for the Interior secretary. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted a lower salary for her post for the same reason.

But when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested raising Salazar’s salary from his current $180,000, Vitter balked and tied it directly to the offshore drilling issue.

CREW says Vitter’s letter crossed the line and wants the ethics panel to investigate and refer the issue to the Justice Department if the evidence warrants.

“Whether it is a defense contractor buying French furniture for a congressman in exchange for earmarks, or a senator who ties a department secretary’s pay raise to approving permits, bribery is bribery,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement. “Paying off government leaders to influence official actions is against the law, period.”

Regardless of what one may think about permits for off-shore drilling, permits, by the way, that are continually issued, Melanie Sloan has a point. Vitter’s actions are brazen: I’ll agree to pay you more if you provide more permits to oil companies. Throughout David Vitter’s career in the United States Senate, he has received nearly $1 million from the oil and gas industry; in fact, his largest single corporate contributor is an off-shore oil company.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Vitter’s absolutely right about the Obama Administration’s off-shore permitting policies (which he’s not). You’d still have to admit: Vitter’s tactics are all wrong: Using his power as a United States Senator to withhold payment to a single public employee unless and until this employee changes a policy in a way in which he ostensibly believes will enrich the fortunes of off-shore oil and gas, fortunes that, incidentally, help fund his political campaigns. It’s brazen; it’s arrogant, and I agree that Vitter’s actions merit investigation.

His office’s response to the Politico story about CREW was utterly and pathetically predictable.

Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar rejected the CREW complaint, saying the group “has a clear track record of filing frivolous, political attack complaints.” Bolar added, “If CREW thinks this is bribery, then it should file complaints against Harry Reid for buying votes with the Louisiana Purchase and Cornhusker Kickback.”

I’m surprised Mr. Bolar didn’t also say something about CREW being a “liberal” attack group, but to his credit, he may have realized the pitfalls of that trope, considering CREW also has a long track record of criticizing Democrats, including the senior Senator from Louisiana, Mary Landrieu. Oddly, instead, the spokesman for Louisiana’s junior Senator attempts to use CREW’s complaints against his boss in order to attack Senator Harry Reid for agreeing to correct a discrepancy, caused as a result of Hurricane Katrina, that would have caused Louisiana to unfairly lose $300 million in Medicaid funding. The so-called “Louisiana Purchase,” as Vitter’s spokesman derisively calls it, was actually requested by- get this- the Governor of Louisiana, Republican Bobby Jindal.

It may come as a surprise to Mr. Bolar and Senator Vitter, but there’s actually nothing extraordinarily unusual about attaching an amendment about Medicaid funding to a bill about health care.

Mr. Bolar’s statement is revealing: There’s no adamant denial of Vitter’s quid-pro-quo stance about Salazar’s salary and off-shore permitting; there’s only an attempt to skirt the issue by pointing out things that haven’t also been investigated. And perhaps in his haste to respond, Mr. Bolar implies that the decision to provide Louisiana with its fair share of Medicaid funding, despite its bipartisan support, was merely an attempt by Harry Reid to “buy” the vote of Senator Mary Landrieu.

Anyone else see the irony in Mr. Bolar’s statement? Surely, considering what Rush Limbaugh said of Senator Landrieu at the time, I’m not the only person who thinks David Vitter’s spokesman should know better than to go there. I mean, seriously.

On a final note, back to the Anthony Weiner fall-out:

The most full-throated defense I’ve read about why Vitter should remain and Weiner should depart is from Kevin McCullough (bold mine):

Kevin McCullough, a conservative political commentator, also noted that difference between Weiner and Vitter in a commentary Sunday on TownHall.com.

“Vitter had confessed to his wife, members of his church, and others of his behavior years previous to the revelation,” wrote McCullough.

“Both did decide to stay in their jobs initially, but no doubt one of the biggest reasons was the fact that the American people felt they got a straight story from Vitter, and everyone felt there was much Weiner had not ‘fessed up to.

Surely, Mr. McCullough is just joking, right?

Americans didn’t get a straight story from David Vitter. Americans got an implicit, carefully-worded admission of a “very serious sin” (singular). Senator Vitter never “fessed up.” He never answered any questions. In fact, he became an expert in dodging questions.

Aside from the fact that Mr. McCullough is absolutely wrong about Vitter’s forthrightness and honesty, there are three other big but important differences between the Anthony Weiner’s scandal and David Vitter’s scandal:

Anthony Weiner, it appears, did not commit any actual crime, though his actions may set a new Congressional standard for stupid, bizarre, arrogant, and pathetic. (As a daily user of social media, I still have trouble understanding how anyone, let alone a United States Congressman, would ever use Twitter for that, or how you could confuse a public tweet with a direct message. And sorry, but the weird pictures he took of himself in the Congressional gym prove that the only thing on steroids in Congress are egos). Regardless, as weird and tawdry and disturbing as the Weiner scandal may have been, he didn’t commit any actual crime.

David Vitter, on the other hand, did commit a crime, at least that is what we are all left to assume from his own “admission.”

Some may also suggest that unlike Anthony Weiner, David Vitter, once caught, readily admitted. This is also simply not true.

The people who pay attention down here in the Gret Stet of Louisiana can tell you: There were rumors floating around about David Vitter’s predilection for prostitutes long before the D.C. Madam ever opened up shop. Way back in 2004, David Bellinger, also known as The Flaming Liberal, publicly asked David Vitter a question when he was a guest on Jeff Crouere’s radio show:

Thank you Jeff for taking my call, always a pleasure to talk to the Congressman. Congressman, since spokesperson for the Republican Party William Bennett has said character counts. I would like to put the same challenge to you that I put to Representative Perkins and he accepted. Would you be willing to sign under the penalty of perjury an affidavit saying you have never had an extramarital affair and you have never known, met or been in the company of one Wendy Cortez.

Vitter’s response (bold mine):

Flaming Liberal thank you for repeating all these vicious rumors that my political enemies are trying to bandy about and those rumors are absolutely true and they really don’t belong in any political campaign and I’ve stated very clearly that they’re lies, but I’m not going to start jumping through hoops and taking orders from my political enemies who have absolutely no credibility. So, I’ll speak very clearly about that. I have in the past; I’ll continue to do so.

As Bellinger points out, no, this is not a typo; Vitter did say, “those rumors are absolutely true,” though he obviously misspoke.

It’s also worth noting: Although Bellinger, a self-described liberal, may have been the first person to publicly confront Vitter about these rumors, the rumors were actually first circulated among top Republicans, notably Vincent Bruno. From Fox News (bold mine):

Also Tuesday, details resurfaced about an allegation that Vitter paid weekly visits to a prostitute in the French Quarter in the late 1990s. The allegations were investigated by a Republican rival when Vitter ran for a House seat in Congress in 1999. The seat had been vacated by Robert Livingston, who resigned after disclosure of marital indiscretions.

Vincent Bruno, a member of the state Republican Party’s central committee, said Tuesday that he had confirmed the allegations at the time while working for the campaign of David Treen, a former Louisiana governor running against Vitter.

The allegations never surfaced in the congressional campaign, but The Louisiana Weekly, a New Orleans newspaper, wrote about them in 2002 and 2004. Vitter denied the accusations. The prostitute never spoke publicly about the alleged affair, which was largely ignored by mainstream news organizations.

“She said she was having a paid affair often on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Dauphine and Dumaine,” Bruno said, referring to two French Quarter streets.

“It’s very sleazy, and it’s illegal. But, OK, it doesn’t apply to senators. They’re an elite group,” Bruno said with irony. He has called on Vitter to resign.

Years later, the woman named by Mr. Bellinger, Wendy Cortez Ellis Yow, publicly accused Senator Vitter of paying her for sex when he was first elected to Congress. Senator Vitter has yet to respond substantively, except to vaguely suggest that there’s nothing true about the “New Orleans stories.”

There’s no doubt about it: Anthony Weiner lied to the media, to his friends, and to his colleagues before realizing that the barrage of evidence against him would ultimately catch up with him. And then he finally told the truth.

Despite Mr. McCullough’s attempt to suggest otherwise, David Vitter, unlike Anthony Weiner, hasn’t ever told the truth; he’s made implications, and ever since then, he’s been able to skirt by.

The third difference, at least as I see it, between Anthony Weiner and David Vitter: The women Anthony Weiner contacted online may have thought it was perverted, but they haven’t suggested he ever did anything illegal; in fact, one of the women involved actually apologized to Representative Weiner’s wife for “flirting” with her husband.

But the woman at the center of the David Vitter D.C. Madam scandal, Deborah Palfrey, is dead. She killed herself only two weeks after being convicted of money laundering and racketeering. On the day she died, her most famous client, the man most responsible for placing her name in the national media, continued his work as a United States Senator, a position he continues to hold. He never had to testify, and he’s never had to answer any real questions.

It’s a serious sin.
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sinful, criminal, and downright disgusting that a criminal politician would go without having to testify in court. Worse, even nearly tragic that his campaign funded by dirty deal dollars actually persuaded the people of this state to vote him into office for another term. Thanks for the great investigative reporting, Lamar!

    June 21, 2011
  2. William Mixon #

    Vitter is one of the very few “conservatives” in Washington, D.C. and Lord knows we (conservatives) are in the minority. Heck, many of the Republicans up there are liberal-as well as all of the Democrats. If the media somehow forces him to resign, I sure hope that he will be replaced by someone as conservative . And that is possible, as Louisiana is still a very conservative state, I think. We will know for sure next year. If Obama carries Louisiana, then I will have to say, Louisiana is a liberal state. We shall see.

    June 22, 2011

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