In Whole or in Part, a Missing Vitter
By Dana Milbank
David Vitter is missing in action.
Or, to be precise, he is missing because it looks as if he got some action.
Camera crews yesterday staked out the home, office and committee room of the Republican senator from Louisiana, who admitted Monday night that he was in the proverbial little black book of the alleged "D.C. Madam." But the lawmaker was on the lam.
The Senate voted to confirm a federal judge in Michigan. No Vitter.
The public works subcommittee on which Vitter is the ranking Republican held a hearing. No Vitter.
Three Louisiana officials testified at another hearing about Gulf Coast rebuilding. No Vitter.
Republican senators sat down to lunch with Vice President Cheney. No Vitter.
Rumors spread that the senator, present on the Senate floor Monday evening, had fled to the Big Easy -- but his aides ignored phone calls and e-mails throughout the day inquiring about the senator's whereabouts.
In Vitter's defense, he has more than his political future to worry about right now; he could lose his manhood.
His wife, Wendy, told Newhouse News Service in 2000 that if her husband cheated on her, she would react less like Hillary Clinton and more like the Manassas woman who cut off her sleeping husband's penis in 1993. "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary," Wendy Vitter said. "If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me. I think fear is a very good motivating factor in a marriage."
Not good enough, evidently. In 2002, then-Congressman Vitter abandoned a race for governor, saying he and his wife had begun marriage counseling, not "in response to any dramatic issue or event." During his successful 2004 Senate campaign -- in which Vitter declared that "we need a U.S. senator who will stand up for Louisiana values" -- Vitter condemned as "just crass Louisiana politics" the allegation that he had an 11-month tryst with a French Quarter prostitute. But Monday night was different. Vitter issued a statement saying he had "received forgiveness from God and my wife" for his "very serious sin."
Luckily for Vitter, Louisiana voters have a history of leniency. A half-century ago, Gov. Earl Long had his famous affair with the Bourbon Street stripper Blaze Starr. A quarter-century ago, Gov. Edwin Edwards remarked that he would lose only if "caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy." And Vitter himself won election to Congress in 1999 replacing Bob Livingston, who would have been House speaker if his adultery hadn't been discovered by pornographer Larry Flynt -- the same Larry Flynt who apparently forced Vitter's confession.
Republicans outside of Louisiana may be somewhat less forgiving, however. Vitter became one of the party's most visible figures as a leading opponent of last month's immigration bill. He's also the "Southern regional chair" of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign; Giuliani's chairman in South Carolina has already resigned after being indicted on cocaine charges.
Whether it was embarrassment for the Giuliani campaign or fear of becoming the next John Wayne Bobbitt, the 46-year-old Vitter, a father of four, went missing sometime after 5:43 p.m. Monday, when he was last seen on the Senate floor voting to confirm a federal judge. A vote on another judge came at 6:12 p.m. -- but Vitter was gone.
At 10:27 p.m., the first bulletin crossed the Associated Press wire: "Sen. David Vitter acknowledges his phone number was on the phone records of the escort service run by alleged 'D.C. Madam' . . . "
The stakeout was on. Yesterday morning, photographers and camera crews from CNN, NBC, ABC and Fox News waited outside Vitter's office in the Hart building. Smaller media clusters stood watch outside the committee room where Vitter was expected, and Vitter's yellow brick apartment building on East Capitol Street with the "For Rent" sign out front.
By midday, the technicians and producers were growing restless. "Oh, he's gonna play it like this? . . . He's laying low. . . . He's doing a Gary Condit. . . . I have it on good information he's in New Orleans. . . . Maybe he's in the hospital."
His colleagues were somewhat more understanding. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) showed up at the hearing room to substitute for the absent ranking Republican. "I've never judged a human being on those type of issues," attested Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as he ducked in for lunch with Cheney and GOP colleagues, sans Vitter.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), approached by a group of reporters outside the lunch, offered an unexpected defense. "All of us have to look at it and say that we could be next," he said in answer to a Vitter question. "We all think that we're not vulnerable to something like that happening, but the fact is this can be a very lonely and isolating place."
Yikes. Might other senators be on the Madam's list? Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) jabbed a playful elbow at the questioner. "Note a swift elbow to the ribs," he instructed.
As Cornyn threw the elbow, Vitter's spokesman continued to duck inquiries about the senator's location. "I'm not allowed to talk about that," the office receptionist said. On the senator's Web site, the latest item under the "Recent News" section was from June 29: "Vitter Applauds FDA Ban on Chinese Seafood."