Vitter Aide Resigns After ABC News Disclosures About Past
Drunk driving, attack on girlfriend, open warrant detailed in ABC News report.
June 23, 2010 — -- A trusted aide to Louisiana Sen. David Vitter resigned Wednesday morning after ABC News reported that he had been arrested for attacking his ex-girlfriend with a knife, and had an open warrant for his arrest in Baton Rouge on a drunk driving charge.
The aide, Brent Furer, worked on the Republican senator's last campaign, and has spent the last five years posted in his Washington office to handle, among other things, women's issues.
An ABC News investigation out this morning revealed that Furer had repeated brushes with the law dating back to the 1990s. Those who have had encounters with Furer told ABC News that his presence on Vitter's payroll raised serious questions about the senator's judgment. Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it concerns her that the senator has talked so forcefully as an advocate for women and an opponent of drunk driving, and yet kept someone with Furer's background on his staff.
"It says something terrible about Senator Vitter's judgment that this is the kind of guy he wants to keep in his office," said Sloan, who first alerted ABC News to the assault case. She said Furer's resignation was "an obvioius attempt by the senator to save himself with women voters as heads into his reelection campaign this fall."
"Senator Vitter knowingly kept this dangerous person on his staff through his drunk driving arrest in 2003 and his chilling domestic violence assault conviction in 2008," said Sloan. "Why have him resign only now?"
Furer's resignation was reported at 10:30 Wednesday morning by the Associated Press. Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado told AP that Vitter's office was aware of Furer's arrest for attacking his ex-girlfriend two years ago, but said Vitter was unaware of any other legal issues until the ABC News report. "Senator Vitter accepted the employee's resignation today after learning of the other incidents," spokesman Joel DiGrado said.
Yet in 2003, after Furer pleaded guilty to driving drunk, a pastor who was Vitter's regional director in Louisiana oversaw Furer's court-ordered community service, and did so while Furer continued to work as a key paid staffer on Vitter's first senate campaign.
Reached at Vitter's senate office last week, Furer declined to comment, saying he was "too swamped" with the office's response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He did not respond to questions emailed by ABC News. Vitter, a 49-year-old first-term Republican who is up for reelection in November, also declined to comment when approached in front of his senate office building Tuesday.
Vitter spokesman DiGrado acknowledged the senator had concerns about the 2008 arrest, in which Furer was accused of holding his ex-girlfriend against her will for 90 minutes, threatening to kill her, placing his hand over her mouth, and cutting her in the hand and neck.
"After the January 2008 incident, he was told to leave the office pending the court's determination of what happened," DiGrado said in an emailed response to questions from ABC News.
DiGrado said that after Furer was sentenced, Vitter imposed "further significant disciplinary action" in consultation with the congressional employment legal office, though he would not elaborate on what that entailed. He said the senator hired Furer because of the aide's military service during the first Gulf War.
Furer eventually pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges, including threatening harm and destruction of property. The assault and weapons charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to 180 days confinement, two years of supervised probation, 40 hours of community service, and treatment for drug and alcohol dependency. After getting a harsh warning from Superior Court Judge Lee Satterfield, his jail term was suspended.
Thomas J. Kelly, Jr., of the white shoe D.C. law firm Venable LLP represented Furer. In an interview with ABC News Wednesday, Kelly said he could not recall whether Sen. Vitter was involved in connecting Furer with representation from Venable for the case. Kelly, who is described on the firm web site as "a seasoned white collar criminal defense and trial lawyer," said Furer paid for his representation.
"I can't talk about how I got hired," Kelly said. "I usually keep that confidential."
In a response to emailed questions, Vitter's office said the senator did not help Furer select or pay for a lawyer.
As a legislative aide, Furer was paid about $54,000 last year. That was his highest salary in the five years he has been on the payroll, the records show.
The dates of Furer's community service also coincide with the dates he was on the payroll of Vitter's senate campaign. On Aug. 2, 2004, for instance, Furer reported doing eight hours of community service at a Salem United Church of Christ camp in New Orleans, under the stewardship of Rev. Richard. Campaign finance records show that on the same date, Furer received $1,500 in payments for "campaign management."
Rev. Richard, reached by cell phone in his Louisiana parish, said Sen. Vitter did not appeal to him to help Furer with his community service. But he did not want to discuss the matter.
"I'm really not supposed to talk," he said. "Everybody makes mistakes in life. We all do. But that's all I'll say."
In addition, Furer was ordered to attend a "victim impact panel" run by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which he attended in 2005, in Howard County, Maryland, while serving on the senator's staff.
Vitter has made outreach to MADD part of his agenda in Washington, posing for a photo with Laura Dean-Mooney, the national president of the organization. On his Facebook page, Sen. Vitter declared, "I met with MADD's National President this morning to discuss additional efforts that can help reduce drunk driving. I look forward to continuing to work with them on ways we can save some of the 12,000 lives every year that are lost in drunk driving incidents."