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September 22, 2010

Just When You Think Senator David Vitter Can’t Sink Any Lower…

By CREW Staff

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Louisiana residents have had more than their share of embarrassing politicians: Huey Long, William Edwin Edwards and William Jefferson to name a few. But even among that lot, Senator David Vitter (R) stands out. Senator Vitter, who has an avowed affinity for prostitutes, also has a soft spot for legislative aide Brent Furer, who until quite recently handled women's issues for the senator. Never mind that in 2008 Mr. Furer was convicted of charges related to stabbing and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. And then there's Mr. Furer's past rap sheet which includes driving while intoxicated and possession of cocaine.

Indeed, Mr. Furer attacked his ex-girlfriend with a utility knife, resulting in her receiving eight stitches to the chin. Surprisingly, Mr. Furer wasn't fired, although Sen. Vitter's office claims he was "significantly disciplined." It turns out, however, that "significant discipline" meant "paid vacation." According to Sen. Vitter's office, Mr. Furer was told not to show up for work until the case was resolved (about three months), but he was docked only five days pay.

Not only did Sen. Vitter keep Mr. Furer on the public payroll, but now we know his office paid for Mr. Furer to fly to Louisiana to answer the DWI charges. Expense records kept on file at the U.S. Senate show Sen. Vitter's office paid $634.20 for Mr. Furer to travel to New Orleans between October 12 and 18, 2007. Notably, according to Baton Rouge court records, Mr. Furer appeared in court there on Oct. 17, 2007, and, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate, he served on a litter detail on October 13 and 14, 2007. Then in 2008, Sen. Vitter's office spent another $746 to send Mr. Furer to Baton Rouge and New Orleans on August 5, 2008, returning August 14, 2008. According to the paper, Mr. Furer signed a probation agreement in Baton Rouge on August 7, 2008.

In fact, Senate financial records show that Mr. Furer traveled to Louisiana at taxpayer expense only six times during his more than five years working for Sen. Vitter, making it a remarkable coincidence that two of those trips coincided with Mr. Furer's court dates.

Sen. Vitter, of course, claims he had no idea about any of this. Really? How is this possible? Court records show that the pastor who oversaw Mr. Furer's community service sentence is on the senator's payroll as a regional director. What's more, Mr. Furer has a criminal record nearly as long as the "DC Madam's" client list, and yet shockingly he held onto his job right up until June 2010. Sen. Vitter isn't usually a considered much of a supporter of rehabilitation programs for convicted criminals. Why the exception for Mr. Furer?

Sen. Vitter's decision to keep Mr. Furer on the payroll for months without working and to allow him to travel at office expense for his court dates should be thoroughly investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee. One must also wonder what else Sen. Vitter did for Mr. Furer. For example, who paid Mr. Furer's legal bills? Mr. Furer claims he paid them himself, but his attorney Thomas J. Kelly, Jr. is a partner at a white shoe law firm in DC where the average hourly billing rate for partners is $530. How could a congressional aide like Mr. Furer, who made only $48,000 the year he was arrested for attacking his ex-girlfriend, afford such expensive representation?

Senator Vitter, who has largely avoided questions about his former aide, should be required to answer questions about what he knew and when he knew it. Americans have a reasonable expectation that our elected representatives will act with honesty and integrity. When they don't, they must be held accountable for their conduct. Since Sen. Vitter has not come clean about his involvement with Mr. Furer, the Senate Ethics Committee should begin an immediate inquiry into the matter.

Melanie Sloan on AC360 and CBS News

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