U.S. Sen. David Vitter has no one to blame but himself for his current troubles relating to his alleged association with a New Orleans prostitute in the 1990s. He could have put all this nasty business behind him in July 2007, when he emerged from a week of hiding after being linked to notorious "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey.
On July 16, 2007, with his wife at his side, a defiant Vitter admitted to a "serious sin" in his past but said he had sought and obtained forgiveness from God and his wife. Had he left it at that, all his "serious sins" might have been washed way.
Instead, Vitter threw down a gauntlet to his detractors and the media.
"[T]hose New Orleans stories in recent reporting," he said, "Those stories are not true."
At that time, Jeanette Maier, the so-called "Canal Street Madam," had claimed that Vitter was a client of her brothel, and several media outlets picked up the story. Around that same time, I was shown a copy of Maier's handwritten client list by someone with knowledge of the case. Vitter's name is not on it — something I've said publicly many times.
Other stories persisted, one in particular: A woman identified as Wendy Cortez (now known as Wendy Ellis) told Hustler magazine that she had serviced Vitter for at least four months. The Times-Picayune verified that she passed a polygraph exam. Vitter refused to take a polygraph, and he consistently has refused to discuss the allegation.
And so his detractors continued to dig, and dig, and dig.
Ellis recently resurfaced, claiming to investigative blogger Jason Brad Berry of The American Zombie blog that she had a "romantic" relationship with Vitter from 1998 into 2000, that he fathered a child with her, and that he asked her to abort the child. She says she put the baby up for adoption instead.
Ellis offers no proof of a pregnancy, paternity or adoption, and her story has numerous inconsistencies, including prior contradictory statements by Ellis herself.
However, one part of her story has been independently confirmed by a corroborating witness: a relationship with Vitter in the late 1990s. French Quarter barber Ricky Ketchum, who operated the Headquarters salon across the street from the escort service where Ellis worked, told Gambit Editor Kevin Allman that Vitter got his hair cut several times in his shop in the late 1990s while waiting to meet "the girl across the street" — where Ellis claims she had sexual relations with Vitter. (See story p. 7.)
Unlike Ellis, Ketchum has no connection with an escort service and no rap sheet. He also has no political ax to grind. He didn't volunteer this information; he was asked about it directly. Nor was he offered money to affirm that Vitter was a customer of his shop.
There are plenty of holes in Ellis' story, but Vitter now has a huge hole in his denial of "those New Orleans stories." Going forward, he won't be able to dismiss this story so cavalierly.
And he has only himself to blame. He threw down the gauntlet. I bet he never expected a mild-mannered barber to pick it up.