That's fine, basically. The attempts by state Dems to insert Vitter into various half-baked conspiracy theories have looked pretty desperate. Nonetheless, Gill made a few statements all his own that had me shaking my head.
Democratic officials have been trying to persuade reporters that U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, when busting the Canal Street madam a few years back, unearthed evidence that Vitter was among her clients.
Letten is supposed to have dummied up in return for Vitter's help in retaining his job.
Given Vitter's celebrated romps with call girls in D.C., it would not have been out of character for him to buy a little on the side in his home town. But it would certainly be out of character for Letten to pervert the course of justice for personal gain.
We wouldn't contend that Letten "perverts" the course of justice. That's pretty heavy-handed. But we would like to remind Gill (who should need no reminding since he wrote a column that touched on this issue) that Letten isn't above making exceptions to normal procedure, which helped his friend Vitty-cent.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said... that his office never came across allegations that Sen. David Vitter patronized prostitutes in its probe of the Canal Street brothel in 2002.
The typically circumspect Letten gave the comment Tuesday afternoon in response to media inquiries about Vitter's alleged patronage of the prostitution house, saying he wanted to "set the record straight" after Tuesday's comments from the brothel's madam, Jeanette Maier, who said Vitter patronized her prostitutes.
"At no time during the investigation or prosecution of the Canal Street brothel case did Senator Vitter's name ever surface," Letten said.
Sensitive to public perceptions about how his office handles allegations against high-profile figures, Letten said, "While we normally cannot and do not comment on these kinds of situations, in light of the statements by Jeanette Maier, and her attorney's attempt to address those statements, I felt it was incumbent upon this office to make an exception and set the record straight."
Not to rehash the whole story, but Maier's claims about Vitter being a past client (independently confirmed by my sources) do not necessarily directly conflict with Letten's extraordinarily unusual statement in 07, which defended Vitter at the height of "Sinator"-mania. Now, I don't put a lot of stock in what Maier says because her stories have been inconsistent over time. However, Vitter could've easily been a client of hers back in the early 90's when he was practicing law, well before the feds' 2002 investigation where his name didn't "surface". (By 02 Vitter had moved on to Wendy Cortez in the FQ and then to DC call girls). Or, Vitter might've only enjoyed the Madam's services at remote locations (at, say, a "fishing rodeo" down the bayou) rather than at Canal Street. That's a possibility, too, though it conflicts with what I've been told. But I don't think you have to be a crazy person to entertain the notion that Jim Letten's statement was geared in part to defend Vitter at a crucial time, rather than out of a singular desire to "set the record straight" when (fellow Republican and De La Salle grad) Vitter was experiencing maximum political peril.
Not that it really matters all that much, because Vitter never thought Louisianans deserved a clear and comprehensive explanation about the matter. Vitter himself never decided to "set the record straight" for the people he serves, and explain which New Orleans stories were false and why he was making appointments with call girls in between Congressional votes. But is it really beyond the pale to ask if Letten had more than one motive when he made the highly unusual move to "set the record straight" for Vitter back in 07? Is Letten so untouchable now that we can't question curious maneuvers like that one and note their obvious political ramifications?
Put another way, is it nutty to think that Letten would more likely go out of his way to "set the record straight" for Vitter, his most ardent supporter? Or do you think it's more likely that Letten will ever, say, decide to open up an investigation about why Vitter was introducing high-level Russians to the ethically-challenged Congressman Curt Weldon? Place your bets.
In 2007 Vitter got caught and apologized for some "sins" but said the "New Orleans stories in recent reporting" weren't true. That's it. He's never said anything more substantive than that about his behavior. You can throw out the entire Canal St. Madam story if you want, and you still have Vitter doing business in Wendy Cortez' French Quarter room several times a week over a ten month period. Vitter lied about that on multiple occasions during his career, and tried to discredit the people who asked him about it, yet even after he got caught in the DC prostitution web, he remained vague with his denials, and never decided to come clean and "set the record straight".
So Gill's tentative claim that Vitter might've bought "a little on the side" here in New Orleans is a very charitable way to describe what we know about Vitter's history. Wendy Cortez has made specific, consistent, detailed claims about how she did business with Vitter several times a week for an 11 month stretch. If anything was "on the side" for Vitter, it was up in D.C.-- Vitter's "main course", as it were, was in New Orleans with working girl Cortez, and (allegedly) with Maier's Canal Street gals back in the 90's. Vitter repeatedly claims he's been very "clear" on the matter, when he's actually NEVER been clear on it. Ever. He lied, and then he apologized when he got caught, and then after he apologized he misled everyone with denials about the "New Orleans stories". What precisely happened in New Orleans? Vitter will never say, because the Senator doesn't think we're owed an explanation. There are numerous questions that he should answer before getting consideration for another term, and having columnists downplay the facts to his benefit doesn't help that effort.
Another (fairly minor) quibble: Gill asserts it's nutty to cast Vitter as the "timid victim of blackmail". Perhaps Gill should have been more clear and wrote "the timid victim of blackmail from Letten", because I don't think it's crazy to think that Vitter has been quasi-blackmailed in the past. As conservatives reminded us ten years ago, Bill Clinton's affairs made him vulnerable to blackmail, and that's dangerous. Granted, the Dems Gill criticizes went overboard with their charged rhetoric and half-baked conspiracy ideas. The particular conspiracy they've hinted at doesn't have hard evidence behind it. However, it's not totally crazy to entertain the idea that Vitter has been lightly blackmailed in the past. Do you really think the highly ambitious Vitter abruptly pulled out of the early horserace for Governor (in '02) merely because he wanted to take more marriage counseling classes? Or was there more to it? Once again, Gill himself has written about politicians who threatened Vitter with "dark secrets". If memory serves, Sheriff Harry Lee threatened to call a press conference just prior to Vitter removing himself from consideration for Governor in 02. (Lee made similar noises to Vitter in 99.) Since Vitter has not been candid about what he's done, it's possible that he might be vulnerable to similar (soft) blackmail attempts in the future.
Interestingly, Letten was with Vitter during one of the times when he publicly lied to his constituents about his chronic whoring. YRHT contributor The Flaming Liberal called into a radio show when both Letten and Vitter were guests. Vitter immediately excused himself to adjust his undergarments or make a phone call or something, while The Flaming Lib peppered Letten with questions. Vitter thought the Flaming Liberal's call was over, and returned to the mic, but the Flaming Liberal was still there and he asked Vitter whether he would sign an affidavit denying the "rumors" about Vitter's visits to New Orleans prostitutes. Full account here.
In honor of Vitter's glorious defense of "Who Dat", I assembled the following comic. Click to enlarge and read. (Not sure why the text is so sketchy. Inspiration here.)