By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
For months, alleged D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey has promised that her voluminous phone records -- all 46 pounds of them -- contained some powerful secrets. Within hours of their public release, a senator acknowledged Monday night that his telephone number was on the list.
Now, groups such as one calling itself Citizens for Legitimate Government, which runs a liberal Web site, are poring over the records, hoping to translate the raw numbers into more names and revelations. Montgomery Blair Sibley, Palfrey's civil attorney, said the records were given to 50 interested individuals or groups who "wanted to remain anonymous," after a federal judge's release of the records last week.
The records, covering the years 1993 through 2006, contain mostly outgoing calls from Palfrey's former business, Pamela Martin and Associates. They also were posted Monday on the Web site for Palfrey's legal defense fund for anyone to look at, Sibley said. It was Palfrey's practice at Pamela Martin to telephone a client back to confirm details of an appointment, thus making outgoing calls significant.
"Once more analysis is done, more names will come out," Sibley said in an interview yesterday.
In a world where phone numbers change constantly, where it is as easy to dial a wrong number as a right one, the public posting of the alleged D.C. madam's phone records has created a new commotion in a case that always aspired to be the next Washington sex scandal. It has raised the specter of wives searching frantically through records for their husbands' numbers, of grudge-bearers buckling down to unearth dirt on their enemies, of political groups aiming arrows at their opponents.
Lori Price, who manages the Citizens for Legitimate Government Web site and writes its daily newsletter, said she is prepared to devote the time the project needs.
"I've got the air conditioning on and my coffee cup beside me, and we'll be plodding through the list," said Price, a part-time writer and editor from Bristol, Conn.
In a statement Monday night, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said his telephone number was included in Palfrey's records dating from before he ran for the Senate in 2004. He did not say whether he used the escort service, referring only to a "very serious sin in my past." His statement also said he had "asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling." He added that he would "keep my discussion of the matter there."
Vitter released the statement after being contacted by Hustler magazine, which is targeting what it calls "moral hypocrites," according to the sex magazine's chief investigator.
The development reignited public interest in a case that had moved to the back burner in recent weeks. In April, about a month after her indictment on federal racketeering charges, Palfrey gave ABC News a portion of the records, from 2002 to 2006. She was hoping its reporters could shake loose some names, she said, because she did not have the resources to do the research herself. She also said that she expected former clients to say they received services that were not illegal -- bolstering her claims, she said, that she was not in the business of promoting prostitution.
Randall L. Tobias, a deputy secretary of state, resigned after ABC contacted him after finding his number in the records. Tobias said he had used the service for massages, not sex.
ABC's heavily publicized "20/20" program on the case, which aired May 4, failed to reveal any names beyond those of Tobias and Harlan Ullman, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And when U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler placed a temporary restraining order on Palfrey and Sibley against releasing any other records, it seemed they might have nothing new to reveal.
But Kessler's decision Thursday to lift the order apparently changed all that. In her ruling, Kessler wondered why prosecutors "exhibited such a strong interest in protecting a list containing the telephone numbers of unindicted co-conspirators."
Palfrey, who has been free on personal recognizance, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment yesterday. Prosecutors declined to discuss the latest developments.
Sibley said he received hundreds of calls late last week from news organizations and others, "from Russia to China," who wanted the records. He said he and Palfrey decided to release the numbers "because we were advised people were selling the list online and the potential for manipulating it to falsely include numbers was quite real."
"We wanted an official list up there," Sibley said, "and to confirm or deny if someone's phone number was on the list."
Sibley said Palfrey needs as many names as possible to aid in her criminal defense. He described her as "a patriotic kind of girl from western Pennsylvania" who thinks citizens should know what their public officials are up to.
Price, of Citizens for Legitimate Government, said she received a computer disk from Sibley "by snail mail" Monday that contained the full phone records. Since then, she said, she and three others have been trying to put names to the numbers, using Google and other Internet search engines.
"We're not going to harass anybody," Price said.
Citizens for Legitimate Government was established in December 2000 "in the aftermath of what we perceive as the stolen 2000 presidential election," Price said. She became interested in the alleged D.C. madam case and began exchanging e-mails with Palfrey a while back, she said. She had to sign "a little contract" that promised not to profit from the records or post Palfrey's relatives' numbers.
"We were interested to see, with some of the family-values GOP stars, if there was any kind of contradiction to their daily life and what they're espousing in public," Price said. "We're not here to hurt people. The hypocrisies are what we're exposing."
She added that she will also post the names of liberal-leaning officials if she finds them. "If one is doing an investigation, what I find out may not be what I want, but I'm not censoring to defend liberals," she said.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.