The latest effort from those tireless worthies over at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group whose name implies the Sisyphean task they've taken upon themselves, takes to task none other than Sen. David Vitters (R-LA) not for wearing diapers while dallying with professionally remunerated sexual service providers, but for trying to use professional remuneration to coerce Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar into letting oil companies drill lots and lots more oil wells.
Seems that last month, Vitter sent Salazar a letter saying he would continue to block Salazar's pay raise unless the good Secretary came across with a little love for the oil companies.
CREW's Executive Director Melanie Sloan sent Senate Ethics Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) a five-page epistle going over Vitter's demands in exhausting detail and suggesting the Committee might want to take a gander into Vitter's doings.
"Our country's criminal laws apply to everyone, including Senators," Sloan's letter said. "There is no exception to the bribery law allowing a senator to influence a department secretary's official acts by withholding compensation."
Vitter, for his part, probably needs to be excused for believing he was above the law, since he routinely frequented a Louisiana bordello and called up the D.C. Madam for compensated companionship without repercussions. Those escapades were widely reported over the years, even if the particularly unsavory allegations that he liked to wear diapers while dallying were, perhaps thankfully, not as thoroughly documented.
Despite excruciating coverage in all the papers back home and around Capitol Hill, Vitter managed to get himself re-elected. Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the notable D.C. Madam, had records of Vitter's take-out calls, and a Louisiana brothel had miles for Vitter's frequent flyer card, but somehow no one seemed to make the connection that Vitter's illegal actions were against the law.
Perhaps Vitter's misadventures back then might just have gotten lost in the shuffle as they came to light roughly the same time as Sen. Larry Craig's (R-ID) even more unseemly misadventures in an airport men's facility. Craig's hanging around an airport bathroom and accosting an adjoining stall occupant who happened to be an undercover cop just might have filled some sort of cringe quota that month, or folks might simply have been relieved Vitter's adulterous assignations were of a relatively conventional nature, notwithstanding the diapers, which admittedly precluded any need for bathroom facilities at all.
In a different kind of pay-for-play scandal, Vitter now stands accused of threatening to block Ken Salazar's salary hike unless Salazar made handy with the rubber stamp and speeded up oil drilling permit approvals. If one considers citing a letter Vitter himself wrote outlining his demands an accusation.
"Perhaps given that Sen. Vitter escaped accountability for soliciting prostitutes, he also thinks he can evade responsibility for violating the bribery laws," opined Sloan. Or, Vitter thought he could evade responsibility for violating bribery laws because he previously blocked another Interior Department official's nomination until the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved 15 offshore drilling permits.
Vitter lifted his hold on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chief Dan Ashe June 1.
"I said I would lift it when we got to 15 permits," Vitter said. "We finally reached that mark today, and I'm lifting my hold."
The D.C. Madam never said Vitter didn't pay. Neither did the Louisiana brothel.
In Salazar's letter to Senate leaders last month asking to set aside his pay hike because Vitter doomed it anyway, Salazar complained that Vitter's intransigence over the pay raise amounted to "coercion."
"This crosses the line," Salazar wrote. "The bribery statute makes it a crime to offer anything of value to a public official to influence an official act."
"Vitter is basically saying, 'Do what I say, and I'll stop blocking this routine pay equalization measure for you,'" Salazar complained.
There's an arcane rule - who'd imagine that? - which says any legislator who voted to increase a Cabinet Secretary's pay can't turn around and take that job at the higher rate he or she voted for as a legislator. While Salazar was a senator, he voted to increase the Interior Secretary's pay, so as Interior Secretary, he was obliged to toil under the old, pre-raise salary. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), being the responsible public servant he is, introduced legislation to bump Salazar the $19,600 that would bring his pay in line with those of the other Secretaries, and Vitter, recognizing the main chance when he saw it, blocked Reid's unanimous consent agreement to bring the bill up for a vote.
Then, Vitter sent the letter that got him trouble because it says all the things Salazar and CREW says it says.
"Given the completely unsatisfactory pace of your department's issuance of new deepwater exploratory permits in the Gulf, I cannot possibly give my assent," Vitter said in the letter CREW said said what it said.
Vitter quickly defended himself, saying of Salazar's pay hike, "It was truly offensive to Gulf energy workers who are struggling under his policies." The Big Five oil companies struggled to clear a combined $32 billion in Q1 2011.
Perhaps Vitter is confused about the whole offering-something-of-value part of bribery. If Vitter figures $32 billion constitutes "struggling," surely the $943,885 oil companies shovelled his way over the years is nothing at all. Which makes $19,600 for Salazar hardly worth filling a diaper with.