The DP informs us that "Senator David Vitter has scheduled a 5pm news conference in Metairie today where he is expected to finally speak publicly about his admitted ties to a Washington, D.C. prostitution ring". In light of this news, I've collected a long review of facts and claims made in the past week about L'affair Vitter.
The disclosure and response: After Hustler and TIME magazine called Senator Vitter's office that Monday afternoon for comment, Vitter provided an exquisitely vague press release to the AP. It read:
U.S. Sen. David Vitter made the following statement today about his telephone number being on the old phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates prior to his running for the U.S. Senate. He respectfully requests that the statement be used in full without editing or paraphrasing.A reasonable interpretation of this statement would be that Vitter's "serious sin" goes beyond merely calling the D.C. Madam's escort service. We can presume that Vitter is admitting to having at least one appointment with one of the D.C. madam's escorts where services were provided. Vitter tells us he is "completely responsible" for his "serious sin", and that he has already received forgiveness from God and wife, and that he won't discuss the matter further out of "respect" for his family.
"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way," Vitter said.
Five Calls: Impressive research by the Times Picayune revealed that Vitter actually placed no less than 5 calls to the D.C. Madam stretching from October 12, 1999 to Mardis Gras, 2001 (Feb 27). Some of these calls (or callbacks) occurred during House roll call votes in which Vitter participated.
We can reasonably assume that these five calls over a 17 month period related to more than one appointment with the D.C. madam's escorts. It's unclear whether Vitter's description of "This... sin" referred to only one call and one appointment with the "erotic fantasy" service, or whether the phrase (as well as his subsequent apology) was worded so that it could be stretched to include the entire batch of calls and visits he made to the D.C. Madam's operation. So, my charitable interpretation of Vitter's statement is this: once he realized he was caught, Vitter vaguely acknowledged and apologized for seeing the D.C. Madam's call girls multiple times between 1999 and 2001, while he was married with children, and while he served as a U.S. Representative.
Keep that in mind as we review the series of scandalous revelations that occurred last week.
Canal Street Madam's claims: Jeanette Maier, the Canal Street Madam, claimed that Vitter was an "occasional" client of her New Orleans brothel, as well. She said he visited her business in the mid-90's but stopped coming prior to the federal investigation that culminated in a raid by federal agents in 2001. None of the attorneys involved in her federal case ever heard or saw Vitter's name appear in the wiretap conversations or records seized from the brothel. Maier never revealed Vitter's name to her own attorney, nor did she choose to reveal it to T-P columnist James Gill over drinks one night at a pub in Metairie. Apparently without prompting, Maier disclosed that Vitter was not into anything "unusual" and that he favored a prostitute named Wendy Cortez.
Other reports: A trusted source for YRHT claimed that Vitter was indeed a client at Canal Street, and that he was into diapers, among other unusual fetishes. Noladishu also posted about Vitter's "sick fetishes", and linked to a blog reporting that one of Vitter's commercial romances was "blessed with issue", and that he has a child living in Alexandria, VA.
Wendy Cortez's claims: If all that wasn't enough, known prostitute Wendy Cortez contacted the Times Picayune and said Vitter was a regular client of hers while he was a state legislator. The ex-boyfriend of Wendy Cortez claimed he had seen a picture of Wendy standing next to Vitter. She was wearing a bikini, and was grabbing his crotch. The boyfriend also said there were times when he had picked Wendy up from the Canal Street brothel after she finished work. However, according to the T-P, Jeanette Maier said the photo of Wendy Cortez (nee Wendy Yow) was not the Wendy Cortez she knew from the brothel. (This claim by the Canal Street Madam is very puzzling. I believe there is only one Wendy Cortez linked to Vitter, and that she worked mainly in the French Quarter. However, I also think it's likely she worked at the Canal Street location at some point. According to a trusted source, other patrons at Canal Street claimed Vitter liked getting pampered there. Perhaps Vitter stopped going to Canal Street prior to US Attorney Jim Letten's federal investigation into the matter. I've heard that Letten is a friend of Vitter's and a fellow De la Salle graduate.)
Public denials in 2002 and 2004:
2002: Political talk show host Jeff Crouere released an archived audio clip from his 7/25/02 radio show when Vitter was publicly confronted with these revelations. The "Flaming Liberal" called into the show and asked Vitter:
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?
To which Vitter replied:
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.
Some quick notes: Vitter obviously slips when he says the "rumors are absolutely true". He meant to say they were absolutely false, but was perhaps rattled and made a Freudian slip. He claims that he had previously stated "very clearly" that the rumors about his infidelity and his relationship with Wendy Cortez are "lies". And he says he has spoken "very clearly" about that in the past, and will continue to do so. We'll see about that, but it's important to note that Vitter went on record as being willing to discuss and deny rumors about his private life, rather than refusing commnent on such matters.
Then caller "Tom" followed up on the Flaming Liberal's query and asked if Vitter would have "any reservations or trepidation" about discussing Wendy Cortez on the radio with Republican Vincent Bruno. Vitter replied:
Well, I’ll be happy to address that very directly. I’m not going to appear anywhere with Vincent Bruno 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.
Political talk show host Jeff Crouere described what happened next:
Bruno responded later on in the day with a threat of a lawsuit and claimed that he would depose Vitter on the Cortez matter. The threat of legal action prompted a quick response and the next day Vitter sent a certified letter to my house and to Bruno’s house officially apologizing for his comments about Bruno that were made on the program.This is useful background to have when you read the details about the similar denials Vitter made on the radio in 2004.
In March of 2004, Chris Tidmore reported that Vitter was a guest on WSMB radio when a caller named Elwood asked ""Would you be willing to sign an affidavit that you have ever known, met or had relations with one Wendy Cortez?" Vitter responded:
"I think you know that that allegation is absolutely and completely untrue...I have said that on numerous occassions...I'll say that in any forum...Unfortunately, that's just crass Louisiana politics, now that I am running for the Senate. I have made that clear that it is all completely untrue...And, it's obviously politically motivated."
By the way, "Elwood" is the Flaming Liberal's call-in name. They are the same person, and I'd suspect Vitter himself recognized the voice. Here is a quote from an email The Flaming Lib wrote to Steven Sabludowsky a couple days ago (and forwarded to me) which adds background detail to this 2004 call.
Steve, the comments Vitter made (correction “lies”) on WSMB radio you wrote in your column below were on the John Marie program on a Saturday morning and the U. S. Attorney, Jim Letten, was on the program with Vitter discussing crime and were in response to a challenge I put to Vitter, similar to the challenge I put to Vitter on WTIX referred to in your column. Chris Tidmore heard the phone call which I played for him from a tape and Chris wrote about the incident and that is why there is a record of Vitter’s lie.
And Steve, when John Marie announced that the Flaming Liberal was up next on the phone line, Vitter excused himself saying he had to make a telephone call, and when Vitter returned, after I chatted with Jim Litten regarding the Bush campaign importing contraband campaign t-shirts and Sen. Kerry’s campaign was manufacturing t-shirts made in America with union labor.
I challenged Jim Letten to open a criminal investigation regarding the Bush campaign violating a law that Bush himself signed into law!
Letten responded by saying that the matter was not in his jurisdiction and John Marie asked if I was finished and after a few more remarks to the U. S. attorney John Marie said good-bye.
However, my phone line was still open and Vitter, conveniently, returned and I asked John may I please ask the Congressman a question.
John said sure go right ahead and I hit Vitter with the challenge for him to agree to sign an affidavit to deny having sexual relations outside of his marriage and seeing a French Quarter prostitute.
So, Steve, I was twice responsible for backing Vitter into a corner and having him put on the public record as a liar!
David Bellinger is the Flaming Liberal (aka "Elwood") and he might be one of the most prolific and consequential talk show callers in the history of Louisiana radio. YRHT was happy to introduce David's platform for his prospective mayoral candidacy in 2005. I consider my neglecting to contact David as the Katrina hurricane approached (and before the wireless network became jammed) to be one of the bigger mistakes of my life. Luckily David survived, and is no doubt enjoying the important role he played in this Vitter story.
So, after previously saying he would happily and directly discuss and deny the "lies" about Wendy Cortez and associated rumors "in any forum", Vitter decided to evade questions posed to his office this week about Wendy Cortez. In Friday's paper, the Times Picayune reported that
On Thursday, The Times-Picayune asked Vitter's office whether he had ever hired a prostitute or knew Wendy Cortez. In response, his office issued a statement that referenced his Monday apology regarding the Washington escort service and reiterated that he was not implicated in a federal investigation that led to the closing of a Canal Street brothel in 2001.
"Senator Vitter was very honest and direct in his statement on Monday.
Evasion: Last week Vitter stayed in the New Orleans area and missed hearings, votes and meetings on Capitol Hill. Today, he cancelled a scheduled town hall meeting today in Louisiana, and his office says he will return to D.C. tomorrow.
2004 Senatorial Campaign and election:
In 2004, Rep. Vitter campaigned as a strong "family values" candidate bent on eliminating "corruption" and cronyism from Louisiana politics. He even criticized Senators Breaux and Landrieu for not properly defending marriage, as he had criticized President Clinton's moral unfitness for office. Democratic Senatorial candidate Chris John's campaign was either unable or unwilling to make the long-simmering reports about Vitter's infidelity and whoremongering an issue in the campaign, and raise associated questions about Vitter's trustworthiness and judgment.
In a 2004 meeting with conservative pastors who promoted the "family values" agenda, Vitter apparently lied about his past infidelity and the skeletons in his closet in order to secure their support.
Moreover, bigwig Republican insiders like Boysie Bollinger "have known quite well and for quite some time about the allegations that David Vitter was a frequent patron of prostitutes and that they understood the damage it could inflict if the story were made public." Bollinger was quoted as stating, "We (Louisiana Republican party insiders) discussed this exact fact, that this bomb could go off." Yet these same GOP insiders endorsed and supported this political "time bomb" without apparent regard for the citizens of Louisiana, who would be hurt when and if the "time bomb" in Vitter's past ever exploded. They KNEW Vitter could be disgraced, discredited and perhaps blackmailed, and yet they supported him anyway. In addition to this political "bombing" of Louisiana, Bollinger engaged in a hideous "double game" during last year's crucial mayoral campaign, and has actually stated that George Bush is probably "the best friend Louisiana has". With friends like Boysie and the other state GOP insiders who kept their mouths shut about Vitter's "time bomb", does Louisiana need enemies?
When Mary Jacoby's Salon story about Vitter's flaws and infidelities came out prior to election day, the so-called "mainstream liberal media" didn't touch it. (I don't recall if the Times Picayune-- which now seems so resourceful and dedicated to unearthing details about the Vitter affair-- endorsed Vitter over Chris John.) YRHT repeatedly referred to allegations about Vitter's hypocritical, immoral and criminal conduct, to no avail or widespread notice.
Revelations to come:
Senator Vitter may be called to testify at the D.C. Madam's upcoming racketeering trial. Also, Hustler's Larry Flynt says "five prostitutes in New Orleans" alone are linked to Vitter. It's quite likely that more embarrassing details will emerge, given Vitter's pattern of reckless behavior.
Vitter allegedly retaliated against others:
One of the most underreported and unexplored dimensions to this affair involves the claims made by Chris Tidmore that Vitter "seriously damaged" his career in response to his original reporting of the story. Tidmore, a current GOP candidate for State Rep, says that Vitter "used his influence to deny job opportunities that were presented" to Tidmore and did so "to others related to the story". Vitter repeatedly said the stories were "lies" born of political motivation.
Senator Vitter should resign because of his pattern of reckless, illegal and hypocritical behavior. When people asked Vitter about the truth, he repeatedly and completely denied "the rumors", and disparaged those who spoke the truth, and retaliated against reporters who reported the truth. There are doubtless more revelations to come, and this state can't have a distracted Senator who avoids doing the people's business when skeletons march out of his closet. Louisiana can ill-afford another political embarassment dedicated to hanging on to office while the national media covers his repeated "sins". Vitter should take the advice he gave others in the past, and resign for the good of the state. I believe Gov. Blanco's best choice to replace Vitter would be Treasurer John N. Kennedy (fat chance, I know). However, if Blanco can cut a deal with the GOP to replace Vitter with former Gov David Treen she should do so. Treen's brother John was one of the very few people in the GOP who refused to sacrifice his principles for political expediency and support someone he knew to be a "liar" and a political time bomb.