An investigation by a Baton Rouge newspaper has found that a longtime aide to U.S. Sen. David Vitter used taxpayer funds to travel home to Louisiana from Washington on trips that coincided with court appearances for his drunk driving arrests.
The timing of the trips, paid by Vitter's office accounts, has rekindled questions about the senator's key aide just as Vitter is battling for reelection. Earlier this year, ABC News first reported on the history of legal troubles that had trailed Vitter's aide, Brent Furer. His brushes with the law included a series of drunk driving arrests, a cocaine arrest, and an arrest for attacking a female friend in 2008.
In that instance, the woman alleged that Furer held her hostage for 90 minutes, smashed her phone so she couldn't summon help, threatened to kill her, and cut her so seriously that she required stitches across her chin. Furer was found guilty on misdemeanor charges related to the altercation and permitted to return to work at Vitter's Washington, D.C. senate office, where his portfolio continued to include women's issues.
After the ABC News report, Furer resigned, and Vitter said he had not been aware of the string of drunk driving arrests Furer had accumulated in Louisiana -- including one misdemeanor case for which there remained an open warrant for his arrest in Baton Rouge. The new report, which appeared on the web site of The Advocate Wednesday night, noted the timing of Furer's trips to the senator's home state.
For instance, the newspaper reported, expense records kept on file at the U.S. Senate show Vitter's office was billed $634.20 for transportation covering a trip Furer took to New Orleans between Oct. 12, 2007 and Oct. 18, 2007. Furer appeared in court on Oct. 17, 2007, according to Baton Rouge City Court records.
The news account said another $746 from Vitter's office account was spent to send Furer to Baton Rouge and New Orleans on Aug. 5, 2008, returning Aug. 14, 2008. Furer signed a probation agreement in Baton Rouge on Aug 7, 2008, the paper reported.
The Advocate said it sent Vitter questions asking if he was aware of the circumstances and reasons for Furer's trips, and the senator's spokesman responded that Vitter had not been aware Furer had faced multiple prosecutions for drunk driving. "The senator did not know about any Baton Rouge DWI incident until it was reported in the press just this past June," Joel DiGrado told The Advocate. "It is standard for our Washington legislative staff to visit Louisiana periodically for meetings."
If taxpayers did, in fact, finance Furer's trips to appear in court, the discovery could prove to be an ironic twist in a senate race that is turning increasingly negative. Just last week, Vitter released an advertisement attacking his Democratic opponent in the U.S. Senate race, Rep. Charlie Melancon, for using his congressional account to lease a luxury SUV.