Can Larry Flynt Take Another Politician Down?

Vitter denies seeing prostitutes in New Orleans; can he survive scandal?

July 17, 2007 — -- Monday night's televised mea culpa of Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, all started with a full-page $106,000 ad in the Washington Post last month -- offering a $1 million bounty to anyone who could document "a sexual encounter" with a high ranking government official or member of Congress.

The ad was paid for -- and the bounty promised by -- the notorious Larry Flynt, a hardcore pornographer, proud Democrat, and First Amendment activist.

"That's what levels the playing field between the big media and between myself is the checkbook journalism," Flynt told ABC News. "And I see nothing wrong with it because what makes a story bad if you pay for it? You know? If it checks out and its good then there is nothing wrong with it," said Flynt.

An investigator paid by Flynt found the phone number of a conservative Republican U.S. senator among the records belonging to Deborah Jean Palfrey, the so-called D.C. Madam currently being prosecuted for allegedly running a prostitution ring.

A Hustler staffer called the senator about the discovery on July 9, and just two hours later, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter pre-emptively issued a press release. Vitter called a press conference a week later, on this Monday evening, right before the evening news.

"I want to again offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past I am completely responsible and I'm so very very sorry," he said.

Vitter continued, speaking for him and his wife: "Wendy and I dealt with this personally several years ago. I confronted it in confession and marriage counseling. I believe I received forgiveness from God, I know I did from Wendy and we put it behind us."

Wendy Vitter added: "To forgive is not always the easy choice, but it was and is the right choice for me."

Flynt watched Vitter's televised mea-culpa from his Los Angeles headquarters.

What made it particularly enjoyable for Flynt is the fact that Vitter is a self-proclaimed defender of family values who has been a leader of the charge against same sex marriage.

In 2006, Vitter said, "marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history."

Flynt said: "He established his credentials as the ultimate hypocrite. What was so sad about it, he had to do it standing behind his family. He used his family to try to make it go lightly into the fact that he used a hooker. I don't care who anybody sleeps with, I don't want people legislating morality for me in Washington."

Flynt has been paying for stories like these for years, perhaps most famously during the impeachment of President Clinton.

In 1999, then-congressman Bob Livingston, another Louisiana Republican, was about to become speaker of the House when he suddenly resigned -- after Flynt's investigator called him with questions about an alleged extramarital affair.

The winner of the special election to replace Livingston was a young state representative named David Vitter.

And while Wendy Vitter sounded quite forgiving at her husband's press conference, at the time of the Livingston and Clinton scandals, she sounded different.

Asked by a reporter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune whether she could forgive her husband as Hillary Clinton and Bob Livingston's wife had done, were her husband to stray, Wendy Vitter said, "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."

Eight years after his scandal, in an interview with CBS affiliate WLL-TV, Livingston said he had talked to Vitter and urged him to stick it out.

"I think he needs to heal his wounds and mend his relationships with his family and heal their hurt. Most importantly he needs to get back in the fray. He needs to be visible, pick up his job where he left off, keep his chin up and know that the sun is going to rise tomorrow," Livingston said.

In his press conference, Vitter was apologetic but also defiant -- denouncing stories from New Orleans media about at least one other lady of the evening who claimed a working relationship with him.

"Unfortunately my admission has encouraged some longtime political enemies and those hoping to profit from the situation to spread falsehoods too, like those New Orleans stories in recent reporting. Those stories are not true," Vitter said.

Years ago, during a different run for office, two Louisiana republicans first charged that Vitter was consorting with a prostitute.

One worked for an opponent of Vitter's, the other was Christopher Tidmore, who at the time wrote for the Louisiana Weekly. Tidmore says he interviewed a woman who called herself Wendy Cortez and found her credible.

"She wanted no money to tell her story and that she had a long term affair with David Vitter and at the very end of it she basically thought that David Vitter was being hypocritical and that's why she came forward," Tidmore said.

Vitter denies that story, but said his apology at the press conference is where his comments on the subject would end.

"I'm not going to answer endless questions about it all over again and again and again. It might sell newspapers but it wouldn't serve my family and my constituents well at all," he said.

But the irony doesn't end there. Tidmore, whose charges were ignored at the time, is currently a Republican candidate for the state legislature. The only reason the seat he's running for is open is because of a term-limits bill successfully pushed years ago by Vitter himself.

"It's sort of incumbent upon our party to police ourselves on this level of hypocrisy," Tidmore said.

For the most part, Vitter's tribulations have been met with support from those in his party. After all, as Jesus said, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone"

But Vitter should not expect the mastermind and financier of his current woes to be inspired by that famously forgiving passage from the Book of John. After all Flynt sees Vitter as someone who has built a career by casting stones.

"There are inconsistencies. We are talking now to prostitutes from his home state. And he said 'it's a lie.' Well we are going to ask him some details about those lies," Flynt said.

Nor in fact should Vitter necessarily be the only one worried. "Anyone that's living a public life contrary to their private life as far as I am concerned they are fair game," the Hustler publisher added.

More revelations about another high-profile D.C. resident could come as soon as this week.

Arash Ghadishah and Ely Brown contributed to this report.