By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Sen. David Vitter, who acknowledged having contacted a Washington escort service, made the admission after being called by Hustler magazine, whose investigative reporter says the sex magazine is targeting "moral hypocrites."
Less than three hours after the inquiry, the Louisiana Republican sent the Associated Press a statement Monday evening confirming that he had been in contact with Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the indicted escort-service owner dubbed the D.C. Madam. Washington reporter Dan Moldea, who is working with Hustler owner Larry Flynt, is collaborating with Palfrey on a book proposal and said yesterday that he found Vitter's number in her phone records late last week.
"When you go through this list, there are a lot of just normal men who were patronizing this escort service," said Moldea, who specializes in covering organized crime. "I can assure you, we have no intention of hurting these people, no intention of interfering with their lives. This is about hypocrisy."
Moldea cited Vitter's conservative record on family issues. Asked if he and Flynt would expose sexual misconduct by a politician without such a record, Moldea said: "If someone hasn't been shooting off his mouth, we'll throw him back in the river."
A news release from Hustler yesterday said that Vitter, 46, "has built his reputation on family-values platforms such as marriage protection and abstinence-only programs," and that the magazine is continuing its investigation into improprieties by high-ranking officials. Vitter's spokesman did not return calls yesterday.
This is the second time that Flynt, working with Moldea, has exposed the private conduct of prominent officials. In 1998, on the eve of the impeachment of President Clinton, the publisher said he had evidence of several extramarital affairs involving Bob Livingston, a Louisiana congressman who was on the verge of succeeding Newt Gingrich as House speaker. Livingston soon resigned his seat, and Flynt, who had offered a million-dollar reward for such information, never released the details. Vitter then won Livingston's House seat.
ABC News -- which first reported the Hustler connection on its Web site yesterday -- had previously worked with Palfrey in examining her phone records. But in May, the network identified only one client, former deputy secretary of state Randall Tobias, who resigned the day after ABC contacted his office. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said that correspondent Brian Ross had about 80 percent of Palfrey's phone records from 2002 through 2006, and that Vitter's number did not appear because he apparently was in contact with the service earlier.
"Not in a million years" would ABC hold back such information about a senator, Schneider said.
Just after 8 p.m. Monday, an unsolicited e-mail from Vitter popped up in the AP's New Orleans bureau, in which the senator apologized for "a very serious sin in my past" and said that several years earlier he had sought and received "forgiveness from God and my wife."
Matt Yancey, the wire service's congressional editor, said the AP spent the next two hours "trying to get someone on his Senate staff to confirm that this was actually coming from him."
Moldea said he got access to Palfrey's phone records -- more than 150,000 numbers between 1993 and last year -- after the judge in her case lifted a restraining order on their release last week. The phone records have now been posted online, where news organizations can attempt to identify other prominent clients of Palfrey, who is contesting federal racketeering charges of running a prostitution ring.