Friday, July 9, 2010

SINator Vitter

Three years ago, in the summer of 2007, David Vitter' life and career were in chaos.

He'd been identified as a customer of DC Madam Debra Jean Palfrey's escort service. Her phone records indicated at least five calls between Vitter (who was a First District Congressman at the time) and the service, including calls taken while votes were open on the floor of the House of Representatives. Vitter was lining up, uh, entertainment for him after a hard day at the office taking care of the public's business.

At least two other women — one, a madam; the other, a former prostitute — identified Vitter as a client of theirs in after news broke of his involvement in the DC Madam scandal. These women said Vitter's involvement with prostitutes dated back to his time in the Legislature.

Vitter, acknowledged having sinned, then went into seclusion for a week in Metairie with his wife and family.

On July 16, 2007, he emerged from hiding to head back to Washington. He and his wife delivered a media statement at a hotel near the New Orleans airport, just minutes before Congressman Bobby Jindal, who succeeded Vitter as representative from the First Congressional District, was scheduled to land at the same airport on the last leg of his tour announcing his campaign for governor.

Vitter dug in. He stonewalled the media. He ignored calls for him to resign. He pressed on. There was never any apparent doubt that he would run for re-election this year. In fact, in the three years since that scandal erupted, Vitter has worked hard to further ingratiate himself to the right wing of his party and, in the process, has maintained strong levels of support among Louisiana Republicans for a man so blatantly and explicitly connected to scandal and hypocrisy.

The DC Madam Scandal did not just disappear after Vitter's connection was exposed. Palfrey had been indicted. She was going to be tried in Washington. There were months of news stories about the progress of the case leading up to the trial, which would take place in the spring of 2008. Until April of 2008, there was a very real possibility that Vitter would be called to testify during Palfrey's trial.

When Palfrey was convicted on April 15, 2008, the case and Vitter's links to it did not end. Palfrey committed suicide two weeks after her conviction.

Vitter spent a good deal of money on attorneys to ensure that he did not have to testify — $127,000. In July of 2008, Vitter asked the Federal Election Commission to allow him to use campaign funds to pay for his legal and other fees related to his effort to resist having to testify.

So, for almost exactly a year from the time the DC Madam Scandal broke until his filing request to the FEC, Vitter was focused like a laser on two things: staying out of the witness stand and clawing his way back to a position where the re-election bid he was adamant about seeking so that, at the very least, he did not attract a serious Republican challenger in this year's party primary.

In the middle of all this, on January 12, 2008, Brent Furer, an aide for Vitter, was arrested in Washington on a series of charges for holding his girlfriend against her will and cutting her with a knife. Furer was, according to Vitter, suspended from the office for five days, but remained on the Senator's staff until his resignation last month.

For all of his personal failings (and who does not have them?), David Vitter is an astute politician. He fought Mike Foster in the Louisiana Legislature and turned the admiration he'd won from conservatives into a base that propelled him into the House after Bob Livingston resigned — ironically, over a sex scandal. He and his wife had the presence of mind to seize the political opportunity created in the wake of the flooding after Katrina to form the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority.

His focus since 2007 has been on positioning himself for re-election. To do that, he must overcome the negative reaction that most women had of him for betraying his marriage vows by consorting with prostitutes (which happens to be a crime).

And, when an aide gets arrested for, charged with and convicted of crimes against a woman, Vitter deals with this threat to his political recovery by keeping the aide on his staff for another two-plus years?

Something does not make sense here.

What call on Vitter's loyalty does Furer have that would make the Senator decide to retain him on his staff when Furer's actions re-enforce the perception that Vitter has a problem with women at the very time when Vitter was working to rehabilitate his own image?

What call on Vitter's loyalty does Furer have that would make the Senator decide that it would be better to have to answer questions about Furer now — in the middle of his re-election campaign — than in 2008 when he was still mired in the DC Madam Scandal and facing the possibility of having to testify in open court?

The picture of the Vitter/Furer relationship is not complete. What we know now does not match with what we know about David Vitter's political instincts.

There must be more to this story.


K. said...

Re the white conservative electorate and white conservative politicians, I'm reminded of a line from Gone With The Wind: "What difference does it make who you marry so long as he's a southerner and thinks like you?"

Mike Stagg said...

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," seems to be the prevailing white conservative attitude towards Vitter's personal issues.

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