The case of the Beltway Madam has kept people in DC on the edge of their seats lately, as defendant Deborah Jeane Palfrey has threatened to release her phone records publicly as part of her public defense. The case already resulted in one high-ranking government official's resignation, and the public wondered who might be next. After a judge finally gave Palfrey the green light to post the records on her website, the scandal caught its next big fish, this time in the Senate:
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) apologized last night after his telephone number appeared in the phone records of the woman dubbed the "D.C. Madam," making him the first member of Congress to become ensnared in the high-profile case.
The statement containing Vitter's apology said his telephone number was included on phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates dating from before he ran for the Senate in 2004.
The service's proprietor, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 51, faces federal charges of racketeering for allegedly running a prostitution ring out of homes and hotel rooms in the Washington area. Authorities say the business netted more than $2 million over 13 years beginning in 1993. Palfrey contends that her escort service was a legitimate business.
The damage won't limit itself to the Senate. Vitter serves as Rudy Giuliani's campaign chair for the South. This follows on the heels of the indictment of Rudy's state chair in South Carolina, State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, on felony drug charges. For a man many unfairly derided as overly authoritarian, his campaign has begun to look a lot more libertarian than anyone suspected.
What happens to Vitter? He got elected in 2004, so he has three years left on his term in office, replacing Democrat John Breaux. So far he has acquitted himself well in the Senate, but that may not make much difference now. He could be charged with a misdemeanor, although the statute of limitations has almost surely run out on that potential charge. More likely, Palfrey might call him as a witness in order to bolster her defense that she didn't arrange explicit sexual encounters, which would extend his humiliation and the political damage.
It's not outside the realm of possibility that he could resign, and the Democratic governor would name his replacement. If Kathleen Blanco appointed a Democrat, it would strip Joe Lieberman of his ability to tilt the Senate back to the GOP by switching parties, and allow Harry Reid to marginalize him. That could also complicate issues even further for the GOP on the war and conservative domestic policies in a Congress already bitterly divided.
However, that might only be temporary. Palfrey has posted an enormous amount of phone records on line, and it won't take long for enterprising amateurs to start putting phone numbers together with names. Vitter might be the first elected official to get burned by his escort-business past, but he likely won't be the last. (via Memeorandum)
UPDATE: I'm pointing this out late because I was traveling and in meetings all day, but James Hymas notes in the comments that Vitter got elected last year, not in 2004. However, the stort indicated that his connection to palfrey was in or before 2004, which means that the statute of limitations noted by James (3 years) would almost certainly have passed, as I wrote.