One week away from the general election in Louisiana, and a New Orleans freelance journalist drops a daisy cutter on the gubernatorial campaign of Republican US Sen. David Vitter, who leads in the polls. In an interview, a former prostitute who claims she had a three-year relationship with the Congressman — who was caught in a prostitution scandal a few years back, and who admitted to non-specific sins — says that when she told her pro-life lover that he had made her pregnant, Vitter told her to have an abortion. She claims that she refused, and put the child up for adoption.
You can watch the interviews here. The reporter says that Vitter, through his lawyer, repeatedly refused to go on camera to address these allegations. This is how he has conducted his campaign: refusing to talk about his alleged past with prostitutes.
Now we know why David Vitter avoided so many live TV debates, why he wanted forum questions in advance, why he ducked the media after the two TV debates he did attend — and most of all, why he has never answered questions about the specifics of the “serious sin” to which he allegedly confessed in July 2007.
… This story is going to go viral, and Vitter will either have to answer all questions from the media or watch his campaign for governor implode in the final week. He cannot “manage” this crisis via press releases or prepared statements. The voters of Louisiana deserve a full, complete, open and no-holds-barred “come clean” from Vitter.
Absent that, we can all hit the “reset” button on this governor’s race.
He really is going to have to deal with this. If the election were held today, Vitter would probably beat his two GOP opponents, Scott Angelle and Jay Dardenne, and make it to the runoff with Democrat John Bel Edwards (Louisiana has an open primary system in which absent an outright majority in the first vote, the first two past the post go to a runoff). This bombshell could upend the race, though. Polling shows that Angelle and Dardenne are both far behind Vitter, and running neck and neck — but that 37 percent of voters are undecided.
People in Louisiana can put up with a prostitution scandal. Heck, they returned Vitter to office in 2010, even after this was known. But telling your pregnant lover to get an abortion while presenting yourself as a pro-life family values guy? I don’t know. That’s going to be a hard one to overcome, especially if you’ve spent the entire campaign avoiding venues where somebody might ask you about it.
A lot of Republican votes will be decided in the next week. Vitter, who is now running a commercial featuring his betrayed wife vouching for him, is going to have to talk, or his silence will say it all.
The bottom line is this: There are holes in parts of the woman’s story, but this remains largely a “she said/he said” tale that may never be proved totally true or totally false. Vitter is not commenting, nor is anyone from his campaign for governor.
The woman, identified by Berry as Wendy Ellis, has an extensive criminal record (including forgery and theft) and has made prior inconsistent statements that undercut her overall credibility. She did pass a polygraph test in 2007 that reportedly verified her having a sexual relationship for “at least four months” with Vitter. Vitter in 2007 denied all stories relating to prostitutes in New Orleans, but he has since refused to discuss anything related to the woman’s claims, including the polygraph or Berry’s recent online story.
Ellis also has produced no tangible evidence that Vitter fathered a child with her in 2000 or that he told her to abort the child. She gave the child up for adoption. She also has produced nothing tangible to support her claim that Vitter put her up in an apartment and visited her regularly for trysts from 1998 until some time in 2000. Moreover, Vitter was elected to Congress in May 1999. Like many members of Congress, his family remained in his district and he returned home often.
Ellis is the same woman who came forward in 2007 to say that she had a sexual relationship with Vitter for “at least four months,” according to a story that same year published by The Times-Picayune. In that story, the Picayune quoted a nationally recognized polygraph expert who said the test of Ellis showed “no deception intended” in her answers about her relationship with Vitter. The TP story noted that the polygraph examination did not go into details about the alleged relationship.
After Berry posted portions of his videotaped interview with Ellis on Oct. 17, several news organizations (not Gambit) received information that undercuts portions of Williams’ story. Gambit received that information on Oct. 18.
As a practical matter, I think this likely kills this story. It was always he said/she said, and Vitter’s refusal to talk (beyond this statement) about his involvement with prostitutes in a scandal that came to light in 2007 made him look bad. But the woman is demonstrably (from these new documents) a liar, so even if she’s telling the truth about this, she has no credibility. Unless something more substantial drops, it looks like Vitter has dodged a bullet. Vitter is not scheduled to turn up at any debates on this, the last week of the general election campaign, so there won’t be any opportunities for his opponents to question him about it.