Currently the frontrunner for Louisiana governor, David Vitter– U.S. Senator, Rhodes Scholar, stalwart Republican conservative, and lifelong champion of the religious right– first thought about running for governor thirteen years ago. He had recently been elected to his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, and because Gov. Mike Foster was term-limited, the race was wide open. Vitter, on paper at least, was imminently qualified, even if he was generally disliked by his Republican colleagues: A razor-sharp, highly educated lawyer who had built a reputation as a no-nonsense, anti-corruption, pro-family values conservative who seemed to care more about accumulating political power than being the most-liked person at the Capitol.
Yet before he could even get his campaign off the ground, he was confronted by a series of ugly, shocking, and potentially career-ending accusations. Freaky, strange stuff, absurd- particularly for someone like Vitter. For most, it just seemed like a pathetic, partisan joke.
This was in 2002, only a couple of years before the advent of social media and Google went public and became a verb. The chatter about then-Congressman Vitter was confined to local AM talk radio and a couple of rudimentary online forums and blogs. The audience wasn’t huge, but importantly, these rumors weren’t being spread by liberal or Democratic opponents. They came directly- unabashedly- from well-known Jefferson Parish Republicans.
John Treen, who famously lost his campaign for the state house to the white supremacist David Duke in 1989 and whose brother, former Gov. Dave Treen, unsuccessfully challenged David Vitter for Congress a decade later, and Vincent Bruno, a former New Orleans police officer and local Republican party official who is perhaps best known as David Duke’s former “spiritual advisor,” began telling members of the media that they had the goods on Congressman Vitter.
Vitter, they claimed, was a serial adulterer who enjoyed the company of prostitutes. They began naming names. One of those prostitutes, Bruno claimed to Salon, was named Wendy Cortez (also known as Wendy Yow). Treen said the same thing later. Vitter, for his part, denied all of it. He tried his damnedest to discredit both Treen and Bruno, with little success however. Other names began to be mentioned, widespread whisper campaigns about secret children and girlfriends who were given extravagant gifts to remain quiet, none of which have ever been substantiated.
Not long after, Vitter promptly announced that he would not seek the gubernatorial candidacy for 2003. He and his wife Wendy were in marriage counseling. “Our counseling sessions have been so effective,” Vitter told The Advocate at the time, “that they’ve led us to the rather obvious conclusion that it’s not time to run for governor. So we won’t. And we’ll be fine.” The subtext behind Vitter’s public admission of couple’s counseling was impossible to ignore: It was “so effective” that he decided not to run?
A year later, with his marriage ostensibly back in tact, Vitter decided to run, instead, for the United States Senate, and this time, he was largely spared from these allegations, with the exception of Salon’s blockbuster piece “There Is A House In New Orleans,” which was published four days before election day. It was an incredibly insightful expose and investigation into all of the lurid rumors about David Vitter, his temperament, his assault against a female opponent at a town hall meeting, and the undeniable and provocative evidence of extramarital affairs. But by this point in the 2004 election, it was too little, too late. He coasted into the Senate without any problem. Ironically, his commercials during that campaign were all testaments to his own family values and deep Christian convictions.
David Vitter was only in the United States Senate for three years, half of his first term, before the real story – or at least part of it- finally became known. Vincent Bruno, John Treen, and all of the others in New Orleans and elsewhere that he had once accused of being thugs and liars were, in fact, largely correct.
Yes, the first-term, junior Senator from Louisiana had definitely been living a double life with a number of high-priced prostitutes for several years. Funny enough, Hustler Magazine was the first to inform Vitter’s office that he was listed on the call log of the D.C. Madam, Deborah Jean Palfrey. The AP later reported that:
o Vitter’s first call “was at 5:57 p.m. on Oct. 12, 1999, a Tuesday. Vitter participated in three House roll call votes that day, beginning at 7:45 p.m.”
o Vitter’s second call was Monday Sept. 18, 2000 at 6:36 p.m., records indicate. “Vitter joined 376 colleagues at about that time in voting to approve the District of Columbia and United States Territories Circulating Quarter Dollar Program Act. The roll call began at 6:30 p.m., according to House records, and ended at 6:39.”
o Vitter’s third call “was placed at 5:06 p.m. on Oct. 26, 2000, a Thursday. Vitter voted in all 10 roll calls that day, starting at midmorning and ending well after dark. Palfrey’s phone call came during a 21-minute recorded vote in which Vitter joined most of his GOP colleagues in approving the Small Business Investment Act.”
o Vitter’s fourth call “was placed at 4:39 p.m. on Feb. 11, 2001, a Sunday.
o Vitter’s fifth call was placed at 3:06 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2001, more than two hours before Vitter voted in the day’s only House roll call.”
In other words, David Vitter, then a member of the House of Representatives, was almost assuredly calling the D.C. Madam from the floor of Congress.
A week after Hustler’s report, Vitter held a press conference in Metairie, on the same exact day and time that his fellow Republican, Bobby Jindal, was announcing his candidacy for governor a few miles down the street. (Unsurprisingly, the media cared much about about Vitter’s press conference than Jindal’s campaign event, but the awkward optics and timing have been a source of consternation between the two ever since). Vitter, with his wife Wendy coldly and defiantly beside him, admitted to a “serious sin,” but he made it abundantly clear he would not resign, which is what he’d previously demanded of Bob Livingston and Bill Clinton for their adulterous affairs.
Suffice it to say, their press conference was bizarre:
Vitter immediately began by lying, claiming that his “long-time political enemies” peddling the “New Orleans rumors” were looking to “profit.” That is not and was never true. Unlike the prostitutes, none of the actual sources, those nefarious political enemies in New Orleans, have ever made a dime from peddling these stories. Following Sen. Vitter’s quick statement, his wife took the microphone in order to chastise the media for getting too close to their children. Like her husband, she was lying. Quoting The Shreveport Times (July 7, 2007):
Vitter’s wife, in characteristic prosecutorial overstatement, created the impression that the media had camped out in their front yard and at their church and had followed them around. There are several problems with that: first, it was the Vitters, who chose to hunker in the bunker, hiding for a week, raising questions about what was going on and where they were. Next, the media doesn’t camp out on the front lawn. Media trucks stay on public property on the street. Also, where were the pictures of the Vitter’s during their week in hiding? There were none.
Both David and Wendy Vitter pretended to be victims of a vast media conspiracy, and for the most part, no one was truly willing to call them out for their total lies to the public.
The day after Vitter’s conference, Wendy Cortez (also known as Wendy Yow), a Louisiana-based escort who has been associated with the Senator since 1999, appeared on MSNBC to challenge Vitter’s implicit assertion that he only hired prostitutes in Washington, D.C.
Indeed, Ms. Cortez is not the only escort associated with Senator Vitter from Louisiana. There are others, and I imagine that, in due time, they may be willing to finally go on the record.
That should terrify the Vitter campaign, and it’s also what makes Sen. Vitter’s candidacy so problematic: He led a double-life for several years, and try as he may, his past will always be present. In 2002, five years before the D.C. Madam scandal broke, Vincent Bruno was blowing the whistle. “I’m not going to appear anywhere with Vincent Bruno,” Vitter told talk show host Jeff Crouere, “because he is a thug and a liar. I’m not going to demean myself; I’m not going to demean the debate in the campaign by doing that.” But 78-year-old Vincent Bruno and his friend 89-year-old John Treen aren’t really “thugs;” they were just willing to pass along things about Senator Vitter that would trouble all of us.
We need an honest Governor. David Vitter had sex with prostitutes for years and years. His wife’s response was unprofessional and unfortunate; no one sought photographs of children inside their home. I suppose the moral outrage would feel much more consistent if David and Wendy Vitter hadn’t sunk hundreds of thousands into commercials marketing their children.
Regardless, I’m keeping my ear to the ground, my car filled up, my laptop charged, and my highlighter on standby. Something is out there. Trust me, y’all.