Southwest Daily News - Sulphur, LA
  • Watchdog group seeks Senate probe of Vitter

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  • A watchdog group asked the Senate ethics committee on Wednesday to investigate allegations that Sen. David Vitter lied about duties of an aide who resigned after he was charged with attacking a girlfriend.
    Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's complaint also said that the aide twice traveled to Louisiana at taxpayer expense when he faced court dates in a drunk driving case.
    The aide, Brent Furer, resigned last June after news broke that he had been arrested in a 2008 attack on a girlfriend. A police report described a violent attack involving a knife. Furer eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.
    A staffer for the committee said the panel does not comment on specific cases.
    Vitter's campaign issued a one-paragraph response that didn't address most of the allegations specifically. Spokesman Luke Bolar dismissed the complaint as an effort to help Rep. Charlie Melancon, the Republican incumbent's Democratic opponent in the Nov. 2 election.
    Although Bolar's statement referred to CREW as a "hack left-wing organization," the group has a history of targeting members of Congress representing different races, philosophies and both major parties. Eight of the "15 most corrupt members of Congress" listed on CREW's Web site are Democrats; Sen. Mary Landrieu, and former Rep. William Jefferson, both Louisiana Democrats, are among past targets of the group.
    In its latest complaint against Vitter, CREW makes several complaints involving Furer, the first involving his taxpayer-funded trips to Louisiana.
    According to senate records, Vitter's office paid $634.20 for Furer to fly from Washington to New Orleans on Oct. 12, 2007, and return on Oct. 18, the day after court records show Furer had a hearing. The next year, the office paid $746 for Furer's round-trip travel from Washington to Baton Rouge and New Orleans. He left Washington Aug. 5 — two days before his sentencing hearing — and returned Aug. 14.
    Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado said in August that Vitter did not know Furer was facing DWI charges at the time the trips were made. Bolar, in his only response to specific allegations by CREW, repeated that Vitter had no knowledge of the Baton Rouge court appearances.
    Another CREW complaint deals with statements Vitter made about Furer's duties after news of the arrest surfaced. Vitter's public statements that Furer was not in charge of women's issues while on his staff have been contradicted by women's groups that dealt with Vitter's office in interviews with The Associated Press and other news organizations.
    "Several directories of congressional staffers list 'women's issues' among Mr. Furer's legislative responsibilities," CREW said. Vitter's statements to the contrary should be investigated as possible violation of Senate conduct rules, the group said.
    When Furer resigned in June, DiGrado said Vitter's office was aware of the 2008 arrest and that Furer left the office for several months as the court adjudicated the case, ordering a fine and community service. CREW cites Senate records in saying that Furer missed only five days of pay and argues that paying him for work not done or while he was attending to personal matters violates Senate ethics policy. CREW also questions whether Vitter helped Furer hire a Washington lawyer to defend him, and whether Vitter helped Furer cover the cost of the criminal defense.
    Page 2 of 2 - With the election only five weeks away, Bolar accused CREW of an attack "coordinated" with Melancon's campaign.
    CREW executive director Melanie Sloan stressed CREW's nonpartisan history, including their recent call for the resignation of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-NY, who faces ethics charges before a House panel.
    Sloan said the Furer allegations have only surfaced in recent months and that it took time to assemble information for the complaint, which cites Senate records and news reports. She acknowledged that the committee is unlikely to take up the matter before the election, and added that they may do nothing about it later.
    "The committee never takes up much of anything," she said. "Just because they don't do their job doesn't mean I'm not going to do mine."
    Vitter apologized in 2007 for a "very serious sin in my past" after it was disclosed that his phone number was among those called several years earlier by a Washington-area prostitution service. CREW sought an ethics investigation in that matter. The panel declined, but, CREW said Wednesday, reserved the right to investigate later. CREW has a complaint pending with the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel alleging Vitter violated rules of professional conduct.
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