In the latest twist of Spygate, the ongoing controversy about Sen. David Vitter’s use of a private investigator to trail at least two private citizens that Vitter apparently deems a threat to his gubernatorial candidacy, Team Vitter is now claiming that the senator is the victim and not the perpetrator. That’s a stretch, but considering the controversy that Vitter finds himself in these days, he has to do something to deflect the adverse attention he’s getting.
On Monday, a Super PAC supporting John Bel Edwards sent a “tracker” to a Vitter fundraiser at a Lafayette restaurant. It was a case of “turnabout is fair play” in that the Vitter campaign has been using trackers to shadow and record the senator’s main opponents (particularly Edwards and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne) since the early days of summer, if not before.
Unlike the Vitter PI in the Royal Blend coffee shop last week, the Edwards tracker made it quite obvious what he was doing in Lafayette. The Edwards tracker’s camera was not disguised as a cell phone; it was mounted on a large tripod. No one could possibly have failed to notice the guy’s presence or what he was doing. In fact, he greeted Vitter very respectfully outside the restaurant and never got close enough to Vitter to record any conversations. See the tracker's entire video HERE — and note Vitter's reaction.
At the Royal Blend, Vitter’s PI was pretending to be a customer at the next table. He did not let anyone know that he was recording and he definitely was trying to record conversations, not just videotape who was there, according to several witnesses. Moreover, the Vitter PI used what Sheriff Newell Normand described as a “sophisticated device that was disguised as a cell phone, and he was pretending to be talking or listening on the cell phone when in fact he was actually videotaping and listening to our conversation.”
The differences between Edwards’s tracker and Vitter’s PI don’t end there.
Edwards’s tracker was following a candidate — Vitter — and not private citizens. Yes, private citizens were at the restaurant, just as Vitter’s trackers routinely videotaped his opponents meeting with private citizens for months. Only now, with the tables turned, Team Vitter takes offense.
The main difference, of course, is Vitter has made private citizens the actual targets of his intelligence gathering.
Team Vitter has admitted that its PI was tracking a private citizen — attorney John Cummings — because of his support of Edwards. Vitter’s campaign has not yet commented on the fact that the same PI was also monitoring investigative journalist and blogger Jason Brad Berry, who broke the story on Oct. 17 about Vitter allegedly impregnating a prostitute and then telling her to abort the child. Berry appeared on WWL-TV on Monday with video of the PI’s car driving past his home at night. Moreover, the PI had a dossier on Berry in his rented vehicle, which JPSO deputies found after they arrested him.
These latest developments prompted a call from veteran Democratic consultant James Carville who said of Vitter, “What’s he gonna do when he’s governor — use the State Police or the National Guard to follow me or other private citizens? This is not ‘silly’ [as Vitter claimed in an attempt to downplay the controversy]. This is serious. What does this say about David Vitter? Of all the people who should be sensitive to being followed around surreptitiously, David Vitter stands out. If he had been followed years ago, there would be video of him going to 904 Dumaine Street.”
The Dumaine Street address is where Vitter was seen going to meet prostitute Wendy Ellis in the late 1990s. Vitter still denies even knowing Ellis, but longtime French Quarter barber Ricky Ketchum told Gambit last week that Vitter several times got his hair cut “while he was waiting for the girl across the street to get home.” Ketchum is apolitical. He was located by Gambit editor Kevin Allman, not produced by a Super PAC or anyone affiliated with any campaign.
Carville noted that he has been in national campaigns since 1982 and has “never, ever, heard of a private investigator shadowing a donor to an opposing party. Sending people to events, yes, everybody does that — but not shadowing private citizens.”
When Vitter noticed the Edwards tracker on Monday, he made a big to-do about it, as Vitter is wont to do — mustering his hallmark self-righteous indignation (kinda like his 1998 op-ed pieces about Bill Clinton being a philanderer, while Vitter himself was carrying on with a prostitute).
Team Vitter quickly sent out a press release, which of course led to the following headline in The Hayride, a breathlessly pro-Vitter conservative blog: “Man Affiliated With John Bel Edwards Campaign Caught Spying On Vitter In Lafayette.” The Hayride story then sarcastically called the use of a tracker “KGB style tactics” — then noted that tracking opposing candidates is “something every campaign does.” In the governor’s race, until Monday, it was something only the Vitter campaign did.
Luke Bolar, communications director for Vitter, sent out a statement saying of the Edwards tracker: “He was filming private citizens having private conversations at a restaurant in Lafayette this evening that Sen. Vitter was also at. It remains to be seen whether or not he will be arrested, jailed, and have his phone and car searched. However, by John Bel Edwards standards, this is ‘Nixonian’ political spying. I expect major breaking news.”
Which brings up the final distinction between Vitter’s use of a PI and Edwards’s use of an obvious tracker: Vitter’s PI has not been arrested for tracking or even for eavesdropping (at least, not yet). He was arrested for trespassing into several private yards in Old Metairie after he fled the scene. Trespassing is a misdemeanor criminal violation — and fleeing the scene is a pretty good impression of Vitter, who always seems to run from controversy or adverse publicity.
Stay tuned. By the end of the week, Vitter may find a way to connect Barack Obama to all this.