Tuesday, November 10, 2015

David Vitter has not yet begun to throw a fit

In conjunction with the release of a cloying new campaign ad with an improbable title, David Vitter finally addressed Coffee Spygate/The Whole Hooker Thing head-on this week.  Vitter made some comments about the whole mess during a forum Monday afternoon

Vitter said he has notified the US Attorney and the FBI about "illegal activity," which he suggests is a conspiracy by "John Bel Edwards supporter John Cummings" to assemble "false testimony" against Vitter. Presumably, this refers to this interview with Wendy Ellis published at AZ last month. The connection between Cummings and the Ellis story is Daniel DeNoux, a private investigator who we know was hired by an unnamed businessman to locate Ellis. Vitter might believe that businessman to be Cummings, although he and DeNoux have denied it. DeNoux and Cummings describe themselves as long time friends and were both present at the now-infamous coffee shop incident involving the PI Vitter hired to stalk them.

It's not clear that Vitter also means to characterize Jeanette Meier's or "Vanna's" or Ricky Ketchum's (love that name, btw) testimony as "false." There's not as strong a connection between those interviews and DeNoux/Cummings so it's more difficult to tack those onto Vitter's implication today. Jason says he would absolutely love for Vitter to clarify, though.

Of course, it's rich that Vitter now wants to claim he's a victim.  On the other hand, it can't surprise anyone. David Vitter has always been most comfortable casting himself as a sanctimonious outsider among a den of unscrupulous politicians. He's been playing that role for a long, long, time now.

Here (via Clay), for example, is a classic Vitter hissy fit from the late 90s in which he attacks a political enemy while complaining simultaneously about corruption and "affirmative action" which, in Vitter World are pretty much indistinguishable, anyway.
Mr. Cummings, 61 years old, cruises around town in a six-year-old Lincoln Town Car with a big crack in the windshield, stopping frequently to chitchat with people. "You'd be amazed what you can learn," he says.

Mr. Cummings, who is white, preaches constantly about the importance of broadening the black middle class and has sought out black investors for many of his real-estate ventures. Black businessmen, for example, have a 19% interest in his 3,000 acres in New Orleans East and a larger interest in some of the land he has acquired since.

"I applaud his efforts," says Vincent Blanson, a New Orleans lawyer who has investments in some of Mr. Cummings' real-estate ventures. "He could have done all these deals without any participation."

But critics say there is more than altruism in his courting of minority investors. State Rep. David Vitter calls it shrewd politics in a city now run by black politicians. "It's put in affirmative-action terms," Mr. Vitter says, "but it's really just old-fashioned Louisiana patronage."

Mr. Vitter has filed charges with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, alleging that State Rep. Sherman Copelin, one of the black investors in the New Orleans East project, improperly used his office to help obtain legislative approval for a publicly owned stock-car racing track proposed there. The racetrack project, which has yet to receive final approval from the agency that issues such bonds, would bring a badly needed highway to a 1,400-acre island in the center of Mr. Cummings' holdings.
Yes, that's the same John Cummings. And, yes, David Vitter is still going to mix race baiting in with his attack if he can.  Remember, Cummings is also the owner of the Whitney Plantation slavery museum.  Vitter propaganda arm, The Hayride, has already mentioned this accusingly in its coverage of the spying episode.  Remember, also, Cummings is widely rumored to be the "anonymous donor" proposing to foot the bill to remove New Orleans's Confederate monuments.  He has denied this publicly but it's quite possible that Vitter's PI was investigating this matter as well.  Vitter has already cut radio ads accusing Mitch Landrieu of "focusing on monuments instead of murders."  If he can somehow include "John Bel Edwards associate John Cummings" in the next round of such attacks, he would certainly love to do that.

So, despite the tumult, Vitter is setting up to run yet another typical David Vitter scorched earth campaign.  It looks right now like he's having trouble gaining momentum, but there's no reason to believe he can't still win.

It certainly doesn't hurt his chances that John Bel Edwards's campaign has gotten a little cocky as of late. The "Prostitutes over Patriots" ad seems like a misstep for several reasons.

First it contradicts Edwards's stated intent to run a positive campaign in contrast to what he told us would be Vitter's gutter tactics. Second,  it's a strange way to end a week which began with Jay Dardenne's endorsement imbuing his campaign with a sense of unifying inevitability. Launching an aggressive attack ad now forfeits a lot of hard-earned goodwill.

Third, the whole tone of the ad is sick with bloated self-righteousness, from its exploitative fetishization of military service to its cheesy "prostitutes over patriots" hook.   Any candidate should be embarrassed to be associated with something like that.

Not John Bel, though. He went on to compound his unforced error in a series of questionable statements regarding his relationship with Cummings.
But Edwards sought to distance himself from Cummings, saying he was not close acquaintances with the lawyer.

"I also don't know why [Vitter] says he was a business associate of mine. If he's a big donor, I'm not sure what he is contributing to," said Edwards to reporters.

Edwards said his father and Cummings were friends decades ago.

But he added, in reference to Vitter's statement: "I'm not sure what all that was. It sounded like a lot of foolishness."

Asked to elaborate on any business ties between Edwards and Cummings, the Vitter campaign pointed out corporate records of Tangi Holdings LLC in New Orleans. The secretary of state lists Cummings as a member of the corporation, and Edwards as the registered agent.

Edwards said he registered a corporation for someone else, a person he didn't name, and that Cummings became a member later. The secretary of state record shows the corporation was created in 2008, and last filed a report in 2014.

"I don't have any business dealings with John Cummings," Edwards said. "I didn't do legal work for him, even in that capacity."
Does John Bel Edwards know that Cummings is a donor and in what capacity? Of course he does.   Does John Bel Edwards know Cummings a little bit better than he lets on? Very likely. Does John Bel Edwards sometimes refer to himself as "John Bel Edwards" in the third person like that?  He most certainly does.
Edwards said tracking candidates is expected and probably fair game in a modern campaign. But what Vitter did to Normand, Cummings, Denoux and others is not expected in Louisiana politics.

"The guy that he was paying ran out of the coffee shop and hid under someone's house and tried to delete information off a recording device. He was spying on a sheriff," Edwards said of Frenzel.

"What sort of a Nixonian system would we have in Louisiana? This is ridiculous," Edwards said. "John Bel Edwards has never hired a tracker."
Yeah but somebody has hired trackers on his behalf. And somebody also hired this DeNoux character to go find Vitter's prostitute.  What else do we know about that guy?
About midnight, April 11, 1975, Officers DeNoux and Reboul, off-duty and in plain clothes on this occasion, were with their friend, Richard Schilling, walking down Bourbon Street, each carrying a drink. As they neared Toulouse Street, they were approached by a young shoe-shine boy, who with some persistence, tried to persuade them to have their shoes shined. The officers became irritated and a verbal altercation ensued. Becoming even more irritated by the boy's responses Officer Reboul began to manhandle him. The shoe-shine boy, Flem Ballett, testified that Charles Cheatham, an adult male unrelated to the principals in the altercation, then came upon the scene and intervened on the youth's behalf. Ballett further testified that it was one of the officers who threw the first punch; that both officers were punching and kicking Cheatham; one officer stepped back and the other officer and Cheatham fell to the ground; as Cheatham started to get up off the ground, the officer who had stepped back shot him. Ballett testified that Cheatham did not have a gun in his possession at any time during the fight.
After this shooting ended his NOPD career, DeNoux has been working as a private investigator with, for and around politically connected people for the last thirty years.  Seems nice. David Vitter may be paranoid, but that doesn't mean some sketchy people aren't also out to get him. 

So how do we score this fight so far? John Bel is probably going to win.  At least, that's what every recent poll seems to indicate. But that doesn't mean he's got the thing locked down.  Vitter hasn't even laid on his best stuff yet.

When the runoff began, Vitter came right out at the bell hitting Edwards with a series of Obamas.  They didn't land, though, because they were based on the flimsiest criminal justice reform rhetoric which opened Vitter up to a swift counterpunch courtesy of the Sheriffs' Association.  Next, Edwards went on the offensive with the Dardenne endorsement.

But following up with the hooker-themed ad, might have been an overreach.

Vitter now has an opportunity to hit back using his go-to move of hypocritical victimhood mixed with a hint of racial dogwhistle.  If he manages to throw that punch while keeping it Louisiana-specific enough to seem relevant to voters, he just might connect for a change.

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